Ortho-phthalates (pronounced "thal-ates") are a group of industrial chemicals used as plasticizers that add flexibility and resilience to many plastic consumer products Ortho-phthalates are referred to generally as phthalates. Phthalate plasticizers are not chemically bound to plastics, such as PVC; they can leach or migrate into foodstuffs and other materials they are in contact with, and cling to dust, which may become airborne.  Consumer products containing phthalates can result in human exposure through direct contact and use, indirectly through transfer onto other products, and through ingestion or inhalation via dust. Although certain phthalates have been restricted in children’s products since 2008, phthalates remain a ubiquitous part of the human body burden of chemicals. 
Many phthalate compounds exist, with slight chemical differences. Some of the common phthalates found in consumer products are:

  • Bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP)
  • Dimethyl phthalate (DMP)
  • Di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP)
  • Diethyl phthalate (DEP)
  • Diisononyl phthalate (DINP)
  • Diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP)
  • Di-n-octylphthalate (DNOP)

Of particular concern are di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), benzylbutyl phthalate (BBP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and diethyl phthalate (DEP). DEHP and BBP are primarily used as plasticizers in PVC-based plastics, as well as other flexible plastics. They may be found in tablecloths, furniture, vinyl flooring, shower curtains, wallpapers, garden hoses, automobile upholstery and tops, medical tubing, and blood storage bags. DEP and DBP are used in non-plastic consumer items as fixatives, detergents, lubricating oils, and solvents. The chemicals can also be found in carpets, paints, glue, insect repellents, time release capsules, and personal care products such as soap, shampoo, hair spray, nail polish, deodorants, and fragrances. 
Although many individual phthalate compounds may be found in different products, in our studies we often report "phthalates" as a single entity. Different phthalate compounds are chemically very similar, and work by HealthyStuff has shown that manufacturers introduce new phthalates periodically. Although phthalates do not all have identical effects in the human body, the structural similarity of phthalate compounds lead us to treat the whole class of ortho-phthalates as suspects in a range of negative health impacts (CPSC 2015).



CPSC. Phthalates. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (2015). 

Published on March 23, 2017

IMPORTANT NOTE: HealthyStuff.org ratings do not provide a measure of health risk or chemical exposure associated with any individual product, or any individual element or related chemical.