Photo credit: Kaplanec/ iStock / 360/Getty Images
What are phthalates?
We've all heard about BPA, the harmful chemical often found in plastics, but do you know about its closely related friends, phthalates? Also in that dangerous family of endocrine disruptors, phthalates are most commonly found in our food, particularly ones that have been processed, or that have been stored in plastic containers.
Limiting your children's exposure to phthalates is important because high, prolonged exposure can cause developmental delays that can last throughout their life, as well as issues with the reproductive organs of both boys and girls and an increase in allergies, among other problems.
The need-to-know facts
In a new study from Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, an attending physician at Seattle Children's Hospital, it was discovered that even with care to avoid phthalates and BPA, unsafe amounts were showing up in the diets of babies over the age of 6 months who were eating solid foods.
Dr. Sathyanarayana says, "We were surprised and concerned to learn that a baby's typical diet would expose them to more phthalates than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reference dose for safety."
How to avoid phthalates for your kids
- Buy phthalate-free: It's rare to find products — plastics, in particular — that are labelled "phthalate-free" and buying BPA-free plastics helps, but doesn't necessarily mean your plastics are void of chemicals. Instead, make better choices about the products you buy, choosing glass instead of plastic, when you can. According to this guide from the University of Washington, you can identify plastics that contain phthalates by checking on the bottom for the recycling symbol, avoiding symbols with a number 3, 6, or 7.
- Wash those little hands: Add another reason to the list of why teaching your kids good handwashing methods is important. Scrubbing off any lingering chemicals when you've been out and about can help keep phthalates at bay.
- Limit meat and dairy: According to Dr. Sathyanarayana's research, children who ate diets that were high in these food groups had phthalates levels that were four times what is considered safe.
- Keep the dirt outside: A simple way to take a step toward avoiding phthalates and other harmful chemicals in your home is to teach your kids to take their shoes off outside.
Reading more about how to avoid phthalates
For more information about how to avoid phthalates, read the fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control, as well as Dr. Sathyanarayana's full research report in the Journal of Environmental Health. You can also find her blog post on the Seattle Children's Hospital website.