Phthalates Fact Sheet

Maryland PIRG
Last updated: 1/5/2012

Phthalates are chemicals added to PVC plastic to make it soft and flexible. Among many other things, they are used in soft plastic toys and other baby products, such as teethers, bath books, and rubber ducks. Because phthalates are not chemically bonded to PVC molecules, phthalates are given off freely by PVC. Because children have a natural tendency to suck on objects as a way of exploring the world around them, phthalates can leach out of these products and enter their bodies.

Phthalates have been shown to have negative effects on human health:

  • Phthalates interfere with the natural functioning of the hormone system.
  • Phthalates cause reproductive and genital defects.
  • Exposure is linked to premature birth and early onset of puberty.
  • Phthalates may lower sperm count and are associated with the risk factors for testicular cancer.

U.S. EPA studies show the cumulative impact of different phthalates leads to an exponential increase in associated harm. According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), levels of phthalates found in humans are higher than levels shown to cause adverse health effects. The data also show phthalate levels are highest in children. CDC scientists concluded that “[f]rom a public health perspective, these data provide evidence that phthalate exposure is both higher and more common than previously suspected.”

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