RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Phthalates are everywhere. The plasticizing, hormone-disrupting chemicals are commonly used in shampoos, lotions, soaps, cleaners, and perfumes to carry artificial fragrances, in makeup to keep the product sticking to your skin longer, and to soften rigid plastic into flexible vinyl products. Although exposure has been linked to disruptive or problem behavior in kids, eczema, asthma, and other ills, the chemical is still in wide use. And according to a 2010 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, these chemicals are winding up in our food supply, too. "Phthalates could be contaminating food at a number of points in the processing and supply chain," explains study author Justin Colacino, MPH, a PhD student in the department of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "Some phthalates are also used in pesticides, so fruit and vegetables could be contaminated through direct application. Animals could also be exposed to phthalates through consumption of contaminated water or feed."
THE DETAILS: Researchers at the University of Michigan analyzed data collected from a national health and nutrition survey and compared diet with the amount of phthalate breakdown material—that is, by-products indicating the chemical's presence in the body—found in urine samples. They found that the people who ate more poultry had higher di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, known as DEHP; higher veggie consumption, particularly potatoes and tomatoes, was associated with higher levels of the breakdown of diethyl phthalate (DEP), a lower molecular-weight phthalate commonly used in perfumes and scented personal-care products. The type found in poultry is most commonly used as a plasticizer to soften PVC plastic into vinyl.