Keeping plastics out of kids’ bodies and out of our homes is a new challenge faced by parents and others around the world. A large study of Swedish children has found that house dust contaminated by plasticizers–phthalates in particular–is associated with higher rates of asthma and allergic diseases. Other evidence has linked exposure to phthalates to reproductive and developmental disorders, cancer, and organ damage.
Phthalates aren’t often listed on product labels, nonetheless here are five steps to guide you to their whereabouts and keep them out of your homes and away from your kids:
1. Don’t buy any product that contains n-butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP) or di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), two common phthalates associated with childhood health problems. Similarly, avoid products that contain phthalic acid, phthalic anhydride, phthalic glycols, or any ingredient that starts with or contains the nearly unpronounceable letter combination “phth.”
2. Be very wary of soft flexible plastic and vinyl products. Everythng from shower curtains to children’s toys, including teething rings and other similar products, can contain phthalates. Before buying a soft plastic item, especially a toy, call the manufacturer and ask them to verify tha the product is phthalate-free.
3. Use only 100 percent natural cosmetics and personal care products. Synthetic versions of these products are two of the leading sources of phthalates in the home. (But remember that the world “natural” on product labels is unregulated and can mean anything.) Synthetic hair sprays, gels and mousses, antiperspirants and deodorants, nail polishes, and perfumes in particular should be avoided as they can expose your child to phthalates with every hug.
4. If you have vinyl flooring, consider replacing it with something else as soon as possible in order to protect children from the phthalates vinyl contains. If replacement isn’t an option in the near term, keep children off these surfaces or place carpets or area rugs over them. When installing new flooring choose a non-vinyl option.
5. Avoid polymer clays, a key source of childhood exposure to phthalates. According to research conducted by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group common bakeable polymer clays sold under brand names like Sculpey, Fimo, and Cernit contain up to 14 percent phthalates by weight. These phthalates enter children’s bodies via hand to mouth contact and by the inhalation of the fumes produced when the clays are baked to create permanent sculptures. A child playing for five minutes with just three and a half ounces of the tested clays, for example, would be exposed to levels of phthalates that exceed the maximum daily exposure standards set for drinking water in Florida and Minnesota. Unfortunately, washing hands isn’t much help. Even after adult researchers scrubbed their hands, phthalate residues remained on their skin in measurable amounts.