Trying to reduce our exposure to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) in our home is no mean feat. However, the more research I read, the more committed I feel. By breaking it down into manageable chunks, my hope is that I’ll be able to make baby steps in the right direction. Every little change made today makes a big difference in the cumulative exposure to these chemicals over time, so I celebrate each and every one.
I’m on the road to ‘Turning away from BPA’ and pretty motivated about doing so after reading all the scientific evidence of its harmful effects when writing my last post. I also follow my ‘9 Easy Ways To Reduce Your Chemical Exposure At Home’. I’ve found it mostly pretty easy once I was kitted out with the right things- stainless steel water bottles and sippy cups, safe toys, some glass containers for food storage and a safe plastic lunchbox for Isabella. I have however found the avoidance of things in jars and tins a bit more difficult… that’s still a work in progress and I haven’t quite got all the solutions figured out… Tins I’ve managed to avoid completely – when it came to cooking with beans, I just soaked my own and it was super simple… crushed tomatoes- I just pulsed some fresh ones in the food processor no fuss. But jars – capers, tahini, coconut oil, olives, tomato paste… I’m struggling.
However, the truth is, by making all the other changes, I’ve decreased my family’s BPA exposure massively – that’s what matters. We don’t have to be perfect. It’s impossible to completely eliminate our exposure to chemicals and live a modern life. It’s all about balance and just making sure we’re moving in the right direction. I’ll keep you updated as to how I get on and if I discover a jar solution – maybe it’ll just be minimising the amount of products I use in jars rather than eliminating them completely!
This post I’m looking at phthalates. It’s probably a word you’ve seen beginning to pop up occasionally next to the ‘BPA-free’ labels on things. Phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) are also something that we really want to avoid… more about that later. Just know that those ‘Phthalate-free’ labels are about to become our best friends.
Here are the essential facts:
What are phthalates?
Phthalates are a group of chemicals of which there are over 20 types in common use. They are used in a wide range of common products to give a plastic flexibility, durability and longevity. Phthalates are entangled within a plastic rather than bonded so can leach out easily by exposure to heat and solvents.
DEHP is the most common type of phthalate that we are exposed to in our homes and is used in making PVC – a common type of plastic. Phthalates are so common and they leach so easily into the environment that it is thought that most people have multiple phthalates in their bodies at any one time.
Sources of phthalates.
Phthalates are in PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride) and can actually make up 30% of it’s weight! Phthalates are therefore in anything where flexible PVC is present- vinyl flooring and upholstery, bath toys, bath mats, children’s toys, food containers and wrappers, block-out curtains, shower curtains, footwear, rainwear, outdoor clothing, tablemats, inflatable products, cables, construction materials, medical devices and textiles.
Phthalates are also found in fragrance ingredients from candles and cleaning products to cosmetics, perfume, nail polish, deodorant, moisturiser, hair spray and liquid soap.
Finally, phthalates are found in fatty foods such as milk, butter and meat. (They are thought to enter milk through the tubing used in the dairies to milk the cows.) Phthalates are also found in the pesticides used to spray fruit and vegetables.
How do we actually get exposed to phthalates?
Phthalates can enter our bodies through breathing in vapours, by skin contact, by eating or drinking foods or liquids which have had phthalates leach into them and through the placenta and breastmilk.
Phthalate vapours are inhaled from building materials (vinyl floors), furniture and fragranced household products.
Phthalates are absorbed through the skin by contact with personal care products, cosmetics and also phthalate containing clothing such as waterproof clothing and artificial leather.
Phthalates enter our food and drinks by leaching into them from packaging, processing equipment, microwaving plastics and also from environmental uptake during cultivation.
Young children have been shown to be at particularly high risk of phthalate exposure. This is because they have a lot of floor time and so breathe in dust as well as vapours containing phthalates and have more skin contact with vinyl flooring. They also put everything in their mouths and a lot of toys are softened with phthalates. Many infant shampoos, baby wipes, moisturisers etc. contain phthalates too… as well as them being passed through breastmilk!
Why should we avoid them?
There is such good data and strong links between phthalates and asthma, they are thought to be to blame for the rising incidence in the developed world.
- Numerous studies have shown a link with indoor PVC- floor and wall coverings, the concentration of DEHP phthalate in indoor dust and bronchial obstruction, asthma and wheezing in children.
Studies also show:
- Boys with undescended testicles, lower sperm counts and reduced testosterone had significantly higher levels of phthalates in their mothers’ milk than those with normal testicular development.
This is backed up by extensive animal lab studies showing:
- Links with fetal exposure to phthalates and lowered testosterone, undescended testes and reduced sperm quality.
There is good data linking phthalate exposure with:
- Thyroid disrupting effects
It is thought phthalates may also be associated with:
- Strong negative impacts on the immune system
- Type I diabetes
- Hyperactivity and aggressiveness in children whose mothers had high amounts of phthalates in their bodies in early pregnancy
How I’m going to work towards removing phthalates from our home:
If I’ve learnt anything by doing this research, it’s how widespread phthalates are in the products that we use and in the environment around us. However overwhelming that is, I’m determined not to let that paralyse me from action because there is so much that we can still do to lessen our exposure. The issue is how much exposure we have to these chemicals and we really can reduce that significantly. Every little change that we make today really does make a huge difference when long term cumulative exposure is taken into account.
Here are the steps I’m going to take to remove phthalates in our home:
1. I’m going to start by trying to remove as much PVC from my home as possible.
I’ve been aware that PVC isn’t great for a while although I didn’t really realise just how bad it was until I wrote this post. I’ve been careful with new purchases for the past few months to make sure they are PVC free, but I haven’t done a proper cull of things already in my home (except Isabella’s toys) until now either. The PVC free alternatives I’ve bought recently were Isabella’s toys and natural rubber bath mat, 100% cotton curtains instead of block-out curtains and glass food containers. We luckily don’t have any vinyl flooring however I will be looking to replace our tablemats, picnic blanket and Isabella’s mattress protector and change mat very soon. I’ll keep you updated as to how I get on and what products I choose.
2. The next step I’m going to take is to not buy foods in plastic wrap such as meat, cheese and cut fruit.
Unlike most plastic wrap in our homes, commercial plastic wrap is again unfortunately PVC. Phthalates leach out of PVC and into food most easily with fats-so meats and cheeses are particularly vulnerable. I don’t often buy these products anyway as I never liked the plastic, but the thought of phthalates leaching out onto our food is definitely enough to stop me buying them completely now!
3. I’m on a mission to avoid artificially fragranced products.
The words ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ on an ingredients list almost always mean phthalates. So for everything from deodorant, shampoo, moisturiser, hand soap, baby wipes, washing up liquid to cleaning products and candles, I’ll be looking to buy phthalate free. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to have a completely smell-less home, it just means that I’m going to be careful about what products I do buy so as to make sure they don’t contain phthalates. What I’ll be looking for are products with the labels ‘no synthetic fragrance’, ‘scented with only essential oils’ or ‘phthalate-free’.
4. Safe food containers.
I’ve been conscious of the importance of using safe plastic for a while now, particularly in regard to BPA. I will now make sure that all my food containers are phthalate free too. Plastics with recycling codes 3 and 7 may contain phthalates. At home we now use mostly glass containers and some safe plastic ones too. We use stainless steel water bottles (Isabella LOVES her stainless steel sippy cup!) and I’m looking into stainless steel food container options as well and will let you know how we go. If I microwave (which isn’t much), I always do so in glass rather than plastic.
5. Isabella’s toys, I’m relieved to say, are now all phthalate free…
However, that has been a work in progress and I didn’t get it right the first time by any means! When buying a toy, I now look for a phthalate-free label. If there isn’t one but I think the product should be a safe one, I actually phone the manufacturer and ask. My experience has been that the companies who make phthalate-free toys will happily tell you and the ones who don’t start making excuses about it being a secret as to what plastics they use. (Australia does have an interim ban on children’s toys containing more than 1% DEHP. The US however have made their safety threshold 10x lower at 0.1% DEHP and Europe has banned it completely for use in children’s toys as well as 6 other phthalates! Australia’s threshold seems a bit lax in comparison – I’d like no phthalates in Isabella’s toys like Europe thanks!)
6. Organic dirty dozen.
At home I already try my best to buy the dirty dozen organic and I buy organic dairy and meat. However, here again this provides even more reason to stay vigilant. Phthalates are used in pesticides – which obviously aren’t allowed to be used on organic produce. Pesticide treated animal feeds are also not allowed in organic meat and dairy production.
I definitely feel like I’ve got a long list of changes to make to reduce our phthalate exposure at home. I just keep reminding myself that every little baby step made today makes a big difference in the long term. All changes take effort, though quickly the new way of life becomes a habit and doing things that way become just as easy. I’m looking forward to being in that space. Hopefully you can join me on this journey too. I’ll continue to keep you updated as to how I get on!
Phthalates may seem as if they are everywhere, however they don’t need to be. There are phthalate alternatives already available to industry. If we as consumers start choosing ‘phthalate-free’ products, companies will listen and start offering healthier products. So long term, there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel.
Every move we make towards decreasing ours and our baby’s cumulative exposure to chemicals is an important one. To kick start you on your journey, I’ve written a guide of ‘9 Easy Ways To Reduce Your Chemical Exposure At Home’ which you get as a bonus when you sign up to my newsletter.