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Surprising Facts About Phthalates

Surprising Facts About Phthalates

Exposure to this hormone-disrupting chemical may be damaging your kids’ health.

In 1973, The Kinks released their song “Plastic Man” which had the lyrics: “He eats plastic food with a plastic knife and fork… And he likes to lick his gravy off a plastic plate.” Little did they know that, 46 years later, their rant would end up being an accurate warning about the health hazards of chemicals in plastics.

Consider hormone-disrupting phthalates, for instance. This chemical is found in vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, lubricating oils, automotive plastics, plastic clothes and equipment and personal-care products (soaps, shampoos, hair sprays and nail polishes), as well as plastic packaging film and sheets (hence, in food), inflatable toys, blood-storage containers, medical tubing and even some children’s toys.

Research tracked the chemicals’ effect on 209 kids. First, researchers measured phthalate levels (and their metabolites) in the urine of women during late pregnancy. Then, they sampled levels in the children at ages three, five and seven. Finally, when the kids reached 11, they were given a standard test to assess their motor skills, such as manual dexterity, running speed and agility. The research showed the motor-skill-damaging effects of prenatal exposure to phthalates persists—especially in girls—and exposure to phthalates after birth was related to lower motor skills in boys. Motor skill deficiencies are associated with cognitive problems and emotional/social difficulties.

Smart steps: Read labels and ditch phthalate-containing products. Phthalates may be listed as BBP, DBP, DEHP, DEP, DiDP, DiNP, DnHP and DnOP. Avoid plastics with the recycling number 3 and products with added fragrances. Only buy fragrances and aromatherapy products made with 100 percent essential oils.

Medically reviewed in February 2020.

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