This fact sheet was originally an email,  the second in a series of twelve for child care providers in New York State who are trained in EcoHealthy Child Care (R) and toxic chemical reduction and elimination strategies by Clean and Healthy New York.  We hope you find them helpful and they inspire to you keep taking steps to reduce the hidden toxic chemicals in your setting.



What's the problem?


This funny-sounding group of chemicals (pronounced THAL-ates) is used in plastics, particularly vinyl (also known as PVC) to make them more flexible, and in fragrances to carry scent. They rarely appear on ingredient labels (personal care products like shampoos identify complex chemical mixtures as simply “fragrance”). Phthalates can disrupt hormones, contributing to birth defects, reproductive problems, asthma, and learning and developmental disabilities. (1)

Nearly all pregnant women tested have phthalates in their bodies, which can affect the developing fetus. (2) While the U.S. Consumer Product Safety commission sets limits on six of these chemicals in young children’s products, they can still be present in a wide array of consumer goods, and contaminate food supplies (3).


Spot it: Where can phthalates be found?


  • In the kitchen: packaged food, and highly processed food, some plastic wrap, vinyl tablecloths.

  • In the bathroom: scented products (anything with a fragrance), time-release coatings on pharmaceutical capsules, PVC shower curtains, PVC gloves for diaper changes, nail polish.

  • Around the house: vinyl flooring, wall paper, wall decals, glitter spray for decorative wall painting, caulks and sealants, garden hoses.

  • Clothing and apparel: vinyl rain boots, vinyl raincoats/ponchos, some jewelry, Halloween and seasonal costumes.

  • Office supplies: vinyl folders and binders, re-placeable note tabs.

  • Cleaning products: often hidden behind the word “fragrance.”

  • In the toy box: Toys and other children’s products sold before 2008; products used as toys but not marketed for children; arts and crafts supplies.


What can I do?


  1. Avoid “fragrance” ingredient in cleaners, air fresheners, detergents, fabric softeners and personal care products. Instead look for “fragrance free” products, and avoid adding scents into the air.

  2. Rely on simpler, less packaged and processed foods. Phthalates in plastic tubing and other applications during food production can transfer into foods, and are never on the label.

  3. Never microwave in plastic, and avoid #3 plastic completely in the kitchen. #3 with the recycle symbol indicates PVC.

  4. Choose vinyl-free, PVC-free products. EVA or nylon shower curtains and plastic rain gear, polyurethane or rubber hoses, latex or polyethylene (“poly”) disposable gloves. Paint instead of using wallpaper, and choose vinyl-free decals to decorate.

  5. Remove children's products made before 2009, when federal law changed. Don't accept donations of used toys. Keep an eye out for manufacturer recalls.

  6. When using plastic products, only use those made for children. Reduce number of plastic toys in general, but focus on providing toys and objects for engagement that are made for children.


Learn more

The State of Maine requires manufacturers to report use of phthalates in a variety of products. Learn more about where phthalates were reported.


Mt. Sinai School of Medicine operates the Children's Environmental Health Center of Excellence, conducting research into environmental causes of childhood disease. They also provide free consultation for parents who have questions about environmental exposures. To contact the Mount Sinai Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU), please call 1-866-265-6201 or




(1)   “Phthalate Exposure and Children’s Health” published in Current Opinions in Pediatrics. By Joseph M. Braun and others. Sidebar to article shows numerous additional articles exploring what we know about phthalates and health.

(2)   “Pressure on Plasticizers” published in Chemical and Engineering News. By Britt E. Erickson. Excellent overview.

(3)   See above.

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NYSP2I is dedicated to helping NYS residents and businesses find implementable and cost-effective sustainability solutions.

Funding provided by the NYS Pollution Prevention Institute through a grant from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of NYS Pollution Prevention Institute or Department of Environmental Conservation.

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