Phthalates are now used in so many products they are almost impossible to avoid. A Swiss study recently found people who eat healthily and try to avoid chemical additives in their food are exposed to much the same levels of phthalates as those who eat junk food and don’t worry about their diet at all. Experiments with animals have consistently shown that some phthalates can be endocrine disruptors but, as with BPA, the evidence for adverse health effects from low-level exposure to phthalates is more limited. Again, though, there’s too much of it to be ignored.
Because of its low cost, DEHP is the phthalate most often used as a plasticiser for PVC. Experts now generally agree that low level exposure to DEHP can affect reproductive development, particularly in young boys, and a US study has found a link between exposure to phthalates and increased risk of diabetes and obesity in men.
We tested 25 food products in glass jars with screw caps sealed with a PVC gasket (CHOICE, August 2008). Twelve contained phthalates at levels above the limit set by the EU, and one, a tandoori dip imported from India, contained DEHP at 230 times the EU limit.