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Chemicals in Food Packaging Linked to Lower IQs

Chemicals in Food Packaging Linked to Lower IQs


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A Columbia University study found that pregnant women who were exposed to phthalates had children with lower IQ levels by age 7

Wikimedia Commons

As if we needed yet another reason to buy fewer packaged foods!

Think quickly: when was the last time you bought packaged food at your local grocery store? We bet it wasn’t that long ago. But besides the questionable nutrition contents of processed food (honestly, what is in Velveeta anyway?), we now have another reason to stay away from food packaging. A study recently released by researchers at Columbia University found that the chemical phthalates, commonly found in food packaging, plastic toys, and bottles as a way to make plastics more pliable, is actually linked to lower IQs in the children of women exposed to the plastic during pregnancy.

The researchers explained that they tried to take out many of the environmental variables but still found the link to two varieties of the chemical and brain development. According to NBC Today, the children of moms with the highest levels of those two chemicals scored, on average, four points lower on the IQ test than kids whose mothers had the lowest levels.

According to the researchers, phthalates can affect the brain’s development pretty easily, due to the fact that the chemical itself is actually pretty disruptive, and can affect hormonal growth in young children. The CDC, meanwhile, seems to not know the exact implications of long-term exposure to phthalates.


The Scary Toxins Hiding in Your Cookware and Storage Containers

Your fruits and veggies are organic, you drink plenty of water, and you limit soda and junk food. While all of those things are undoubtedly important to your health, what you store and cook your food in is just as vital to your well-being as your diet. While it's not something anyone wants to believe, a fair portion of cookware and storage containers are laced with toxins that can build up in the body and compromise your health. The chemicals found in common things like pots and takeout containers have been linked to everything from infertility and weight gain to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's. That said, it's in your best interest to do a serious inventory of your cookware.

There are three simple steps to creating a safer, less toxic kitchen. First, find out which dangers are lurking in your cabinet. Then, toss all that second class cookware in the trash and replace it with safer alternatives. Here, we walk you through how to do just that—while giving you all the need-to-know details about the common toxins in cookware and where they're hiding out. And if you get inspired to go the extra mile while you're in the process of a kitchen overhaul, don't miss these 25 Ways to Organize Your Kitchen for Weight Loss Success!


Home-cooked meals linked to fewer harmful chemicals in the body, study says

There’s nothing like a home-cooked meal. Not only are they comforting, but they’re also healthier than take-out food, according to a new report.

Researchers from the Silent Spring Institute recently conducted a study, published in the Environmental Health Perspectives, to explore the association between restaurant food and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS.

PFAS are a class of chemicals used in nonstick, stain-resistant and waterproof products, such as cookware and food packaging. The chemicals have been linked to an array of health issues like cancer, thyroid disease, low birth rate and decreased fertility.

For the assessment, the team examined more than 10,000 people from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which tracks health and nutritional trends in the United States. The participants answered questions about their diet and provided blood samples, which were evaluated for PFAS.

After analyzing the results, the team found those who ate meals at home had significantly lower levels of PFAS in their bodies, while those who ate more fast food and at restaurants had higher levels of it.

"This is the first study to observe a link between different sources of food and PFAS exposures in the U.S. population," co-author Laurel Schaider said in a statement. "Our results suggest migration of PFAS chemicals from food packaging into food can be an important source of exposure to these chemicals."

This isn’t the first study that has assessed the downside of dining out and fast food.

In 2018, researchers from George Washington University and the University of California Berkeley at San Francisco said those who regularly ate at restaurants, cafeterias and fast food places had more harmful chemicals in their bodies, compared to those who ate at home.

The Silent Spring analysts said, “The general conclusion here is the less contact your food has with food packaging, the lower your exposures to PFAS and other harmful chemicals.”


Annie's Homegrown questioned whether customers care about phthalates

Families that have eaten who-knows-how-many boxes of Annie's Homegrown macaroni and cheese over the years might have reason to worry about ortho-phthalates. A peer-reviewed scientific study published Feb. 18 in the American Journal of Public Health linked phthalate exposure during pregnancy to increased risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children (via Food Packaging Forum). Other studies point to lower IQs, childhood obesity, asthma, and male fertility problems from phthalate exposure.

While the United States does not set any limits on how much phthalates can be in food, Europe does have a standard for the chemical. Annie's Homegrown said in its online statement that any phthalates in its macaroni and cheese fall below the European Food Safety Authority standard. Annie's also said it is working with its suppliers to see what they can do to eliminate ortho-phthalates while acknowledging that the problem is complicated.

While Annie's did make this statement on its webpage, The New York Times reported that the company told a health advocacy group privately that it didn't think phthalates were a big deal in the minds of most customers. "While we appreciate that this is important for some consumers, it is not the focus of most of our consumers during these difficult times as we seek to reassure them about the basic availability and value of our products," a General Mills executive said in a December email to the advocacy group Defend our Health.


5 Ways to Reduce Your Exposure to Toxic BPA

No one disputes that bisphenol A, a toxic compound widely used to line food cans and other food packaging, is polluting people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found BPA in the urine of more than 90 percent of Americans sampled. In 2009, tests commissioned by EWG were the first to find BPA in the umbilical cords of nine of 10 infants sampled.

Because food packaging is the primary source of exposure, it stands to reason that BPA levels in our bodies are affected by what we eat and how that food is packaged. Although a new British study suggests that lowering your BPA level yourself through diet is not easy, there are some steps you can take to reduce your exposure.

BPA acts like estrogen in the body. It disrupts hormones, affects brain development and metabolism, and harms the reproductive system. Evidence suggests the developing fetus and young child are most at risk, but adolescents also appear uniquely vulnerable. BPA has also been linked to cancer, heart disease and other serious disorders.

The new study, by researchers at the University of Exeter and published in the journal BMJ Open, was the largest real-world study to date of the effect of dietary moderation on BPA in the body. It tracked 94 teenagers who for one week changed their eating habits and behaviors to try to avoid BPA in food packaging. While the researchers found no measurable effect on BPA levels in the overall group, they did see a reduction in BPA levels for the teens who started the trial with the highest levels.

Researchers speculated that the drop in BPA levels would have been more significant in a controlled setting. But the teenagers were going about their normal lives, and they reported it was hard to know what they could eat because BPA is so widely used and packaging containing BPA is so poorly labeled.

In 2012 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. A year later, the agency prohibited it in infant formula packaging. But, like the British teens, for the rest of us avoiding BPA is still a challenge.

In 2016, EWG created a database of about 16,000 processed foods and drinks that might be packaged in materials that contain BPA. In California, products packaged in materials with BPA must carry a warning label on the package or store shelves.

As the food industry scrambles to find alternatives to BPA, concern has grown that without appropriate oversight, food companies will substitute similar chemicals or new chemicals that could be just as harmful or even more harmful. A National Toxicology Program study of 24 replacement chemicals found that many already in use are structurally and functionally similar to BPA, and, just like BPA, may harm the endocrine system.


EPA OKs Pesticide Linked to Lower IQs, Memory Issues in Children

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is recommending the continued use of a pesticide that is suspected to cause brain damage in children.

An interim decision proposed by the EPA on Thursday includes some new restrictions on the chemical chlorpyrifos but stops short of banning its use. Research has suggested that the chemical can cause adverse effects in humans, including damage to developing brains, potentially resulting in significant memory problems, muscle and nerve issues and the development of lower IQ in children.

"EPA is refusing to protect children from damage to their brains and learning disabilities," Patti Goldman, managing attorney for the environmental legal advocacy group Earthjustice, said in a statement. "Even with the new protections, the agency is still failing children, who will continue to be exposed to chlorpyrifos at levels that cause lifelong damage."

Restrictions on chlorpyrifos proposed by the EPA include "label amendments limiting application to address potential drinking water risks of concern," efforts to mitigate risks related to "spray drift," a reduction in "exposure to non-target organisms" and a mandate that farm workers who handle the chemical wear additional personal protective equipment and take other safety measures.

In September, the EPA issued a risk assessment that determined "the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects" of chlorpyrifos "remains unresolved," despite multiple studies suggesting harm, including some studies funded by the agency years earlier.

Likely due to a Trump administration policy against "secret science," the EPA said it would not consider certain studies where the "raw data" was not fully accessible. Epidemiological studies tracking long term health effects often include information that is kept confidential due to laws concerning the private medical records of study participants.

It is not clear that the interim decision will stand. The proposal will be followed by a 60-day public comment period and a final decision will take place after President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20, with the incoming administration likely to make changes to EPA leadership.

In 2000, the EPA determined that the chemical was too dangerous for home use when issuing a ban against it being used in consumer products or indoors. The continued use of chlorpyrifos as a common commercial pesticide has been controversial ever since.

In 2015, the administration of former President Barack Obama proposed a national ban on chlorpyrifos being used in food and crops. States including New York and California have issued their own chlorpyrifos bans in recent years.

After President Donald Trump took office in 2017, his choice to lead the EPA, Scott Pruitt, said he was "returning to using sound science in decision-making" when announcing that the agency would reverse the Obama administration's decision to ban the chemical.


These Toxic Chemicals in Food Packaging Are Getting into Your Meals

On a busy weeknight, takeout and fast food are easy dinner time solutions. But your family’s favorite on-the-go meal may come with a side of toxic fluorinated chemicals.

Per- and polyfluoralkyl substances, or PFAS, are a family of greaseproof, waterproof and nonstick industrial compounds. They’re used in hundreds of consumer products, including ones that touch your food. These chemicals pollute the bodies of almost everyone worldwide, and have been linked to a slew of serious health problems.

Some of the most worrisome places these chemicals lurk are in fast food wrappers and takeout containers. Food and Drug Administration tests found that PFAS chemicals can migrate out of food wrappers to contaminate food, especially when the food is greasy. And when EWG and colleagues tested fast food wrappers, we found fluorinated chemicals in 40 percent of the wrappers tested. This included packaging for sandwiches, pizza, fried chicken and pastries.

Until companies change their packaging, or laws are put in place to keep our food safe from this nasty class of chemicals, PFAS in fast food packages is one more reason to cut back on fast food and greasy carryout whenever possible. Avoiding these substances may be even more important if you are pregnant or have kids, as PFAS chemicals can be particularly harmful to a developing fetus or young child.

Babies and young children are exposed to these chemicals in more ways than adults. They can ingest PFAS chemicals by drinking breast milk, crawling on dusty floors, and putting their hands in their mouths after touching contaminated materials. Because of their small size, children may have higher exposures by body weight than adults.

Toxic fluorinated chemicals can lower a baby’s birth weight when the mother is exposed. Women drinking water contaminated with the PFAS chemical PFOA in West Virginia and Ohio had increased risk of pregnancy-induced hypertension and pre-eclampsia. PFAS chemicals at concentrations common in Americans may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines in children.

Adding to the long list of concerns, exposure to PFAS chemicals may increase the risk of liver damage, cancer and thyroid disease, and cause endocrine disruption.

Stricter regulations would effectively reduce Americans’ exposures to these harmful chemicals, but there is no federal law to restrict their use in consumer goods. In the absence of federal action, state and local legislators are beginning to ban PFAS chemicals from food packaging.

  • In March, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed the first state law to ban toxic fluorinated chemicals from food packaging.
  • An ordinance proposed in San Francisco would ban PFAS chemicals from single-use foodware like containers, cups and utensils. It would also require foodware designated compostable to be certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute.
  • The California legislature is considering legislation that requires manufacturers of food packaging and cookware to label their products with a warning if the products contain PFAS.

Over the past decade, studies have brought to light just how widespread these chemicals are. Besides takeout containers and fast food wrappers, PFAS chemicals are also in microwave popcorn bags, drinking water, cosmetics and clothing.


Stop using plastic containers: Exposure to household chemicals linked to lower IQ in babies

Scientists at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health has found that children exposed during pregnancy to two common household chemicals had "substantially" lowered IQs and warns that pregnant woman should not store or microwave food in plastic.

The researchers studied 328 women from low income communities in New York City over seven years, right from when they were pregnant.

During the third trimester of pregnancy, the researchers assessed the women's exposure to four common types of phthalate chemicals in urine and then tested the IQs of the children when they reached the age of seven.

They discovered that the mothers who had been exposed to the highest levels of phthalates gave birth to children that had IQs that were on average at least seven points below than the children of mothers who were exposed to only low levels of IQ.

The study, entitled "Persistent Associations between Maternal Prenatal Exposure to Phthalates on Child IQ at Age 7 Years", is the first of its kind to ever link phthalates to low IQ in children.

Stop microwaving and storing food in plastic containers

Phthalate chemicals are commonly used to make plastics harder to break and more flexible and it is already known that these chemicals can interfere with hormones in the body.

Scientists are advising that pregnant women not store and microwave food in plastic containers. The risk of exposure to phthalates is low in the EU, but higher in other countries like the US Mirjam Preuß, Flickr

In particular, the chemicals DnBP and DiBP were previously found in children's toys and lipsticks before they were banned in many countries from 2009 onwards, including in the US and European Union.

However, other types of phthalates like di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and diethyl phthalate (DEP) continue to be used in fabrics, paints and flooring materials in the EU, as well as in food packaging in some European countries.

"People, and especially pregnant women, should try to reduce their exposure to phthalates, and we as investigators follow the same advice that we give," Pam Factor-Litvak, an epidemiologist at Columbia University told the Guardian.

"We advise them to avoid microwaving food in plastic. [and] to store food in glass containers rather than plastic ones. Although we didn't measure phthalate levels earlier in pregnancy, I think it's prudent to take this advice throughout the entire pregnancy."

Bright side for the EU, but people in US and Oceania beware

There is however a bright side for people living in the EU – from February 2015 onwards, DEHP, BBP, DBP and DIBP (known as low phthalates) will be banned in the EU unless authorisation has been granted for a specific use.

Phthalates are still being used in cosmetics and many other consumer products in countries like the US and Australia pomo mama, Flickr

High phthalates, such as Diisononyl phthalate (DINP), Diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP) and Dipropyl Heptyl Phthalate (DPHP) continue to be used for a wide variety of purposes including flooring, cable sheathing and PVC, and only have mild restrictions relating to children's toys and food packaging in the EU.

As for other countries like Australia, Asia and the US, unfortunately both low and high phthalates are still being used in everything from cosmetics, hairsprays, nail polish and soaps, to automobile upholstery, packaging sheets, toys, plasticine, printing inks on t-shirts and even scented or cleaning products.

"We ask [people] to avoid scented products, including cleaning products, air fresheners, and scented personal care products, because phthalates hold scent. And we ask them to avoid the use of plastics that are labelled 3, 6, or 7, because of the chemicals they contain," said Factor-Litvak.


These Popular Foods Impair Your Immune System

Some chemicals added to food or food packaging harm the immune system and reduce vaccine efficacy.

A preservative used in a wide range of foods and a coating on food packaging products can harm the immune system and reduce the antibody response to vaccines.

Tertiary Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), also known as E319 in Europe, is an approved additive used to increase the shelf-life of processed foods.

It is used in cooking oils, processed or frozen meats, bakery products, crackers and more specifically popular brands like Rice Krispies Treats, Cheez-Its, Pop-Tarts and many more.

PFAS also called “forever chemicals” — used as coatings on food packaging (food wrappers, plastic packaging, bags, and boxes) –can leak into food and drink.

A study assessed the toxicity and health hazards of TBHQ and PFAS in humans and animals.

Their review shows that BHQ and PFAS can impair the immune system.

Given the coronavirus pandemic, this finding is particularly worrying.

Dr Olga Naidenko, the study’s first author, said:

“The pandemic has focused public and scientific attention on environmental factors that can impact the immune system.

Before the pandemic, chemicals that may harm the immune system’s defense against infection or cancer did not receive sufficient attention from public health agencies.

To protect public health, this must change.”

Past studies have suggested that TBHQ activity hinders the production of immune cell proteins, reduces the efficacy of flu vaccines, and increases the risk of food allergies.

PFAS levels can damage immune function, resulting in lower disease resistance or higher risk of infections.

High levels of PFAS have been linked to asthma and food allergies in teenagers.

Another study also found an association between elevated blood levels of PFBA and increased risk of COVID-19 severity (Grandjean et al., 2020).

Many additives in processed foods can increase the risk of hormonal imbalance, cancer, and damage to the nervous system.

However, the food additives regulation set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ignores the latest research showing the negative impacts of additives on human health.

The FDA often lets food manufacturers decide what chemicals are safe and legal to use in food packaging.

Professor Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs, said:

“Food manufacturers have no incentive to change their formulas.

Too often, the FDA allows the food and chemical industry to determine which ingredients are safe for consumption.

Our research shows how important it is that the FDA take a second look at these ingredients and test all food chemicals for safety.”

Foods and drinks can be produced without any of these harmful ingredients and there should be a safer approach towards food packaging.

For now, the EWG’s Food Scores database might be a useful tool for many shoppers to chose healthier products.

The study was published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (Naidenko et al., 2021).


Get the Facts: Phthalates

U.S Air Force photo illustration by Air Force Staff Sgt. William Banton

Ortho-phthalates, commonly referred to as phthalates (pronounced THAL-eights), are a group of chemicals that are used to make plastics, primarily polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl), flexible. The chemicals also serve other purposes, including as solvents in fragrances for personal care and cleaning products.

These chemicals are used in many different consumer products and they migrate out easily. That’s why they’re found in food—after migrating from food processing equipment and packaging. This is concerning because exposure to phthalates is linked to a range of serious health issues. Though phthalates can affect everyone, exposures may do the greatest harm in pregnant women. Their children may be born with behavioral issues and lower IQ. Boys whose mothers are exposed to phthalates could be born with reproductive tract defects. Children are also particularly vulnerable to the effects of phthalates because they eat more than adults do, relative to body weight, and are still growing and developing.

Most U.S. agencies and state governments aren’t doing what they can to protect us from exposure to phthalates. Since food is the largest source of exposure and dairy has been found to have some of the highest levels, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and other groups are calling on grocery and restaurant chains to eliminate phthalates in food and food packaging. We are also part of a coalition of groups calling on Kraft Foods to “klean” up its act and eliminate ANY and ALL sources of phthalates in its foods. Sign the petition here!

On this page:

  • What products are phthalates found in?
  • How am I exposed to phthalates?
  • What are the possible health impacts?
  • What is the government doing about this?
  • What can I do?
  • How can I reduce my exposure to phthalates?

What products are phthalates found in?

Phthalates are found in hundreds of products. They are largely used as plasticizers to make plastic, primarily polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl), soft, flexible, and harder to break, and can also be added to products for a variety of other purposes, including as solvents.

NY CC BY-SA 3.0

Food is the leading source of exposure. Phthalates have been found in dairy products, meats, fish, oils & fats, baked goods, infant formula, processed foods, and fast foods. Phthalates are not intentionally added ingredients but rather “indirect” food additives. They easily escape from food processing equipment, food packaging, and food preparation materials, and contaminate food at points all along the supply chain. This includes food-processing equipment, such as PVC tubing used in milking and to transfer milk between farms and processing plants. Phthalates are also found in some food packaging and preparation materials, such as PVC gloves used to prepare food and adhesives and printing inks on packaging. Recycled cardboard food packaging may have higher concentrations of phthalates than virgin cardboard.

Photo: Andrealopezb, CC BY-SA 4.0

  • Vinyl building products such as wall coverings, carpeting and roofing materials
  • Personal care products, used as a solvent and fixative in fragrances (although the product’s ingredient list may not specify any phthalates since the single term “fragrance” can include phthalates and hundreds of other chemicals)
  • Children’s back-to-school supplies made out of vinyl
  • Office supplies such as vinyl 3-ring binders and paper clips , such as IV bags, blood bags & tubing where phthalates help localize medication release and other child care products like teethers
  • Home maintenance and building products, including paints and primers
  • Cleaning products such as detergents

How am I exposed to phthalates?

Phthalates are ubiquitous and cumulative exposure is already too high, according to government risk assessments conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the European Food Safety Authority.

Scientists agree that most people are mainly exposed to phthalates from the food we eat. Phthalates have been found in dairy products, meats, fish, oils & fats, baked goods, infant formula, processed foods, and fast foods. This is true even if the food is organic. Phthalates are added to some food packaging and to materials used to handle and process food. These chemicals are more likely to move out of packaging or equipment and into food that is high in fat. Recent research found that people who frequently eat out may have higher levels of phthalates in their bodies than those who don’t. Phthalates may also be found in unprocessed food such as fish because the chemicals are common environmental pollutants.

Household dust and indoor air are also notable sources of exposure. Phthalates may be released from building products including vinyl flooring, vinyl carpet backing, and lacquers. People may breathe in the chemicals directly or inhale or ingest dust in which the chemicals have concentrated.

Children may be more affected because of their hand-to-mouth behavior. Because young children put their hands in their mouths, they may have higher exposure from dust contaminated with phthalates.

What are the possible health impacts?

Photo: Øyvind Holmstad, CC BY-SA 4.0

Studies conducted by federal scientists have found that up to 725,000 American women of childbearing age may be exposed to 5 phthalates at levels that could harm the health of their baby, should they be pregnant.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association have warned about the health effects of phthalates on children. Since kids eat and drink more, relative to body weight, than adults do, and are still growing and developing, they’re more sensitive to the effects of phthalates.

Not all phthalates have the same effects on health. Below is a list of effects linked to one or more of these chemicals.

  • Endocrine disruption. Some phthalates are endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). In other words, they interfere with hormones that play very important roles in growth and development. In 2017, the European Union officially designated four phthalates as human endocrine disrupting chemicals.
  • Abnormalities in the male reproductive system. Pregnant women with higher levels of phthalates in their bodies may give birth to boys who have a condition linked to poor sperm quality and reduced fertility.
  • Damage to the DNA in sperm. Adult men’s exposure to phthalates has been linked to reduced integrity in sperm DNA.
  • Reduced testosterone levels and altered thyroid hormone production. Studies have linked phthalate exposure to large reductions in testosterone levels. At least one study found this was true even in women for certain age groups. Various phthalates have also been tied to changes in thyroid hormone production. Thyroid hormones are crucial for proper growth, brain development and metabolism.
  • Neurodevelopmental effects in infants or children. Pregnant women exposed to phthalates may give birth to children with behavioral and cognitive issues. These effects can include ADHD-like behaviors, aggression, depression, a lower IQ, and autism.
  • Liver and kidney toxicity. Certain phthalates are linked to adverse impacts on the liver and kidney in laboratory animals.
  • Cancer. At least two phthalates are linked to liver and other types of cancer.
  • Asthma. Studies have linked phthalate exposure to asthma or other respiratory symptoms (see here and here).

What is the government doing about this?

  • U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Congress have limited exposure from toys and other products for children. Effective in 2009, Congress banned toys, teethers, sleep aids, and feeding aids with more than 0.1% of three phthalates. The CPSC extended the ban, effective April 2018, to cover five more phthalates that harm male reproductive development.
  • States in the U.S. have also acted on a similar set of products.California and Vermont prohibit the manufacture, sale or distribution of certain toys, teethers, sleep aids or feeding aids with more than 0.1% of two phthalates that are not restricted at the federal level. Washington State prohibits phthalates in a broader array of products.
  • S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still allows phthalates in food contact materials. This agency lets companies use a large number of phthalates in food packaging and handling equipment as “indirect food additives” through regulations adopted 30 to 50 years ago based on outdated safety data. In 2016, SCHF partners and other organizations petitioned the agency to stop allowing this use, but FDA hasn’t issued a final decision. By contrast, FDA is more cautious about medical devices, as the agency has warned against the use of devices containing DEHP for procedures involving male neonates or other sensitive patients.
  • The European Union has been more proactive. The government restricts five phthalates in plastic food contact materials unless they only migrate into food at low levels, but even these phthalates are largely prohibited in plastic materials that come into contact with fatty foods. The EU currently restricts certain phthalates in toys and certain other items for children. In July 2019, the EU will start restricting phthalate levels in most electrical and electronic equipment. Four phthalates are currently on track to be restricted in a variety of additional products.

What can I do?

In response to our Mind the Store campaign, a number of retailers are taking action on phthalates in building materials, cosmetics, and cleaning products. Thanks to advocates like you, in 2015, more than a dozen major home improvement and flooring retailers such as The Home Depot, Lowe’s and Lumber Liquidators agreed to stop selling vinyl flooring with added phthalates. The presence of phthalates in flooring is especially concerning for babies and kids who spend a lot of time on the floor. Walmart, Target, and CVS Health are working to eliminate certain phthalates in cosmetics and/or cleaning products.

Photo: Mike Mozart (Flickr.com, CC)

But there’s still work to be done! Food is the largest source of people’s exposure to phthalates. We’ve partnered with Defend Our Health and other public health groups for the Klean Up Kraft campaign. We’re calling on Kraft Foods to eliminate ANY and ALL sources of phthalates that may end up in their foods. Sign the petition here!

Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and other groups are also calling on grocery and restaurant chains to eliminate phthalates in food and food packaging. You can contact your favorite grocery stores, restaurant chains, and food brands to ask them what they’re doing to eliminate phthalates from their products. If you hear back, please email us at [email protected] .

How can I reduce my exposure to phthalates?

Since phthalates are found in a wide variety of products and foods as well as the environment, it is nearly impossible to avoid them entirely. Instead, grocery stores, restaurant chains, and other food companies need to identify and eliminate all sources of phthalates in food and other consumer products. But there are some simple steps you can take that may reduce your exposure to these toxic chemicals.

  • Eat less processed food and cook more. Many nutritionists recommend eating a balanced diet and reducing consumption of highly processed foods in order to promote good health. That general advice may also reduce exposure to phthalates associated with food processing. For example, studies have shown that eating out, including at fast food outlets, is linked with higher phthalate exposure. However, since phthalates are reportedly pervasive in many types of food products, a system-wide solution is needed.
  • Just remember, bad news comes in threes – don’t buy PVC (A.K.A. vinyl) plastics (resin #3). Flexible PVC flooring, wall coverings, shower curtains, children’s school supplies, and other items that are made from this material are more likely to be softened with phthalates.
  • Avoid the ingredients “fragrance” and “parfum.” Phthalates can be hidden in fragrances in many products – and in almost all states, manufacturers aren’t required to disclose what’s in the fragrance. Avoid products containing synthetic fragrance – from perfume to shampoo to laundry detergent. The safest route is buying products with a Safer Choice seal that are specifically labeled “fragrance-free.” Even “unscented” isn’t good enough – this can just mean that chemicals are used to cover up the smell of other ingredients.
  • Buy “phthalate-free”. Several companies sell personal care products marketed as “phthalate-free,” so look for those as well.
  • Avoid hand-me-down plastic toys and other kids’ products. Three phthalates were banned from items like toys, teethers and the like only in 2009 – and it took until 2018 for five more to be banned. Reuse is good for the environment but stick to toys that are wooden or another non-plastic material. Pro tip: carrot or celery sticks make great teethers!


Watch the video: CHE Webinar: Plastic Food Packaging: State of the Science on Chemical Constituents and Hazards (June 2022).


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