I blog about environmental toxins a lot because their harmful effects continue to be reported in scientific studies, yet little is done to curtail their use or educate the public about their harms. One class of toxins—the phthalates—is particularly troublesome because they are ubiquitous. They’re everywhere.

Phthalates are found in:

  • personal care products
  • cosmetics
  • perfumed products
  • adhesives
  • car care products
  • plastics used for food packaging, processing, and storage

Because phthalates are not chemically bonded to the plastics, they are easily leached and can enter the body via ingestion of food or beverage, inhalation, or contact with skin. Studies have found that almost everyone has urinary metabolites of phthalates. That is, almost everyone is exposed to phthalates, which is evidenced by their breakdown products found in urine.

In a recent study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers found a link between higher concentrations of urinary phthalate metabolites during pregnancy and neurobehavioral problems in their children at ages 6 to 10. Higher prenatal concentrations of phthalate metabolites were associated with physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, feeling jittery, and muscular tension, as well as behavioral issues such as attention problems, rule-breaking behavior, aggressive behavior, and oppositional/defiant behavior. These problems occurred more often in boys than in girls.

Pregnancy is a vulnerable period, developmentally. Whatever a mother is exposed to during this time reaches the placenta and can affect the growing baby. The Environmental Working Group gives some great tips for avoiding phthalate exposure. Be sure to pass these on to anyone you know who is pregnant or who will be in the near future. As a matter of fact, it would be a good idea for anyone to follow these tips, pregnant or not.