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 From EWG October, 2007-Caution: These six seven household items may feminize baby boys

Caution: avoid phthalates. . . and they're unhealthy for you, too. Phthalates are the culprit.

Phtha-what, you ask? Phthalates are common industrial chemicals. They've been around since the 1930's, making vinyl out of hard plastics, acting as solvents, and contributing to the "fragrance" of many personal care products. The Centers for Disease Control tested 289 people in 2000, and found phthalates in all of their blood at surprisingly high levels. High phthalate levels have been linked to decreased sperm motility and concentration and altered hormone levels in adult men; in a recent study of 134 newborn boys and their mothers, researchers found distinct differences in the reproductive systems of the boys whose mothers had the highest phthalate levels during pregnancy. Further research revealed that those moms' phthalate levels weren't uncommon -- in fact, an estimated one quarter of American women would have similarly high phthalate levels.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to limit your exposure. Here are six seven common sources of phthalate exposure in the home, and what you can do to avoid them.

  1. Nail polish: Dibutyl phthalate is often used to make nail polish chip-resistant. Look for it on the ingredients list, where it may be shortened to DBP.
  2. Plastics in the kitchen: Take a critical eye to your cupboards. Phthalates may be more likely to leach out of plastic when it's heated, so avoid cooking or microwaving in plastic.
  3. Vinyl toys: Phthalates are what make vinyl (PVC) toys soft, so don't give them to children. Opt instead for wooden and other phthalate-free toys, especially during that age when they put everything in their mouths!
  4. Paint: Paints and other hobby products may contain phthalates as solvents, so be sure to use them in a well-ventilated space.
  5. Fragrance: Diethyl phthalate (DEP) is often used as part of the "fragrance" in some products. Since DEP won't be listed separately, you're better off choosing personal care products, detergents, and cleansers that don't have the word "fragrance" on the ingredients list.
  6. Vinyl: Vinyl shows up in a lot of different products; lawn furniture, garden hoses, building materials, and items of clothing (like some raincoats) are often sources. Aside from carefully choosing materials when you're making purchases, there is one easy change you can make: switch to a non-vinyl shower curtain. That "new shower curtain" smell (you know the one) is a result of chemical off-gassing, and it means your shower curtain is a source of phthalates in your home.
  7. Air Fresheners: New research from the NRDC demonstrates that, just like fragrances in personal care products, most air fresheners contain phthalates . That even goes for the ones labeled "fragrance free." NRDC suggests that you open your windows and use fans to circulate air and keep it fresh.
Source: EWG's EnviroBlog

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