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Phthalates Are out of Infants’ Toys but a Heavy Dose Is Still in Their Food

For related articles and information, please visit OCA's Health Issues page, Appetite For a Change page and our Food Safety Research Center page.

Remember the great phthalate scare of 2008? Congress, in a rare bipartisan response to a clamor from parents and health experts that children's toys made abroad were laced with chemicals that could harm boys' reproductive systems, banned the toxins so infants would no longer ingest them by mouthing the plastic objects. And then phthalates (pronounced thal-eights) pretty much faded from public view.

But a new study shows that an infant with a typical diet is still consuming twice as much of the chemicals as the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe. Meats - poultry in particular - high fat dairy products such as whole milk and cream, cooking oils and fats such as margarine all contain high levels of the chemicals, according to the research, published in June in the journal Environmental Health. As a result, infants and toddlers who consume solid food are still taking in too much of them, said one of the researchers, Sheela Sathyanarayana, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

"When the children's toys were being brought up, it was specifically for kids mouthing a lot of plastic toys," said Sathyanarayana, who is also an investigator at the Seattle Children's Research Institute. "Now that we have more information and the research has evolved, we know [there are] other sources." In addition to diet, those would be dust tracked into homes by everyday foot traffic and the creams and lotions used mostly by women for personal care.

Phthalates, a family of chemicals, have been used for decades to make plastic more pliable and cosmetics smoother. They are considered endocrine disruptors; a growing body of research appears to indicate that they interfere with hormones such as testosterone and therefore the quality of sperm and semen.   

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