No matter how plastic free you may think you are, you might be surprised at the results of a new study showing that you, like most Americans, likely harbor high levels of certain plastic chemicals, despite industry-wide shifts away from some of the most damaging ones out there.
The research, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, tracked levels of phthalates, chemicals added to plastic products to keep them soft and flexible and to fragranced products to prevent their scents from dissipating, inside average Americans. There 20 varieties of phthalates in use, and some classes are suspected of interfering with hormones and causing birth defects in children. Three phthalates—DEHP, DnBP, and BBzP—have been banned from children's toys because of their damaging effects.
The authors used data from the CDC, which monitors blood and urine levels of phthalates, to see how levels of those three phthalates found in humans have changed over the past decade, and what they found was good—and very bad. While levels of those three phthalates have dropped significantly—anywhere from 20 to 50 percent—levels of other, equally damaging phthalates have risen significantly. Levels of one phthalate, DiBP, rose more than 200 percent, despite the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency considers it a chemical of concern. Levels of another phthalate, DiNP, rose 150 percent, even though it was recently added California's Proposition 65 list of chemicals that cause cancer.
"Studies like this raise more questions than they answer," says Ami Zota, PhD, lead author and assistant professor in the department of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University. "We don't know what changes in our consumer environment are leading to these shifts," she says, noting that DiNP and DiBP are probably being used as replacements for the three banned phthalates. "One of the most important messages of our study is the importance of disclosure of what's in consumer products, which right now is not very complete."
Companies aren't required to disclose phthalates in most instances, so avoiding the chemicals requires avoiding products that might contain them. You may think that means just staying away from plastic products, but in our increasingly synthetic world, you're probably being exposed to plastic in places you'd never expect, such as these eight products you'd never suspect could harbor phthalates: