U.S. Lawmakers Introduce Bill To Keep Phthalates Out of U.S. Food Supply

New legislation introduced in the U.S. House and Senate seeks to prevent phthalates from contaminating the U.S. food supply.

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to help make plastic flexible or more durable. They are commonly part of the packaging, preparation, storage and processing of food products, but are also found in a wide range of other items, including toys, cosmetics, detergents, PVC tubing, medical devices, and pill coatings.

Studies have found that exposure to phthalates can interfere with hormones, and result in widespread harmful side effects. For most people, diet is the primary source of phthalates exposure.

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On August 6, Senators Dianne Feinstein, of California, and Kristen Gillibrand, of New York, introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate, “Preventing Harmful Exposure to Phthalates Act” (PDF), which they say will prevent phthalates from infiltrating the food supply. A companion bill is being introduced in the U.S. House by Representatives Ted Lieu and Katie Porter of California.

If passed into law, the bill would ban the use of phthalates in any material that comes in physical contact with food, and would require any materials replacing phthalates currently in use be proven safe. The bill would also look at whether communities of color are being disproportionately exposed and what the health consequences might be.

“While the harm from phthalates is well-documented, it’s almost impossible for families to avoid exposure to these harmful chemicals. And many Americans aren’t even aware that it is happening. The fact that exposure to these toxic chemicals may come from multiple sources we come in contact with daily, including the very food we eat, should make banning them from U.S. products a national imperative,” Senator Feinstein said in an August 6 press release. “We already banned phthalates from toys and other children’s products. It’s time to remove them from food packaging and other products that threaten our health.”

Having been just introduced, the legislation has a long way to go, including through committees in both chambers, then votes in both chambers, if it gets that far. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and a number of environmental and consumer watchdog groups have already come out in support of the bill.

Phthalate Exposure Health Concerns

Phthalates often contaminate the food supply when food contacts certain materials. This can occur during industrialized production, but it can even enter the food supply when preparers wearing rubber gloves handle food.

Health risks from phthalates may include high blood pressure, increased risk of obesity and diabetes, and increased risk of allergic reaction and asthma in children exposed during pregnancy.

Other studies have shown phthalates are potent endocrine disruptors which affect the function of hormones, including thyroid hormones, increased risk of miscarriage, and reduced male fertility, even for generations after initial exposure.


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