What are phthalates?

Phthalates are synthetic, high production-volume chemicals used in a wide range of products, including building materials, food production and packaging, medical devices, personal care products such as cosmetics and other consumer products. It is estimated that 4.9 million metric tons of phthalates are produced annually worldwide.

 What are the main ways that phthalates get into people’s bodies, including pregnant women and children?

Because phthalates are so widely used in materials that come into contact with food during processing and packaging and also used in a wide variety of other consumer products, virtually everyone in the U.S., as well as in many other countries, is exposed to a mixture of phthalates on a daily basis. Phthalates readily cross the placenta during pregnancy, resulting in exposure to the developing fetus. Children are exposed through food, toys, personal care products and other consumer products, and generally have higher exposures than adults.

What are the effects of phthalates on children’s brain development?

Human studies have linked prenatal exposure to some phthalates with altered neurodevelopment in children. Effects seen include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)-like behaviors, problems with conduct and aggression, as well depression and other internalizing behaviors. In addition, prenatal exposure has been associated with deficits in child IQ, working memory and executive functioning, as well as with problems in emotional regulation. In a large Swedish population-based study the presence of PVC flooring in the parents’ bedroom, which is a known source of phthalate exposure, was associated with autism.