Phthalates (pronounced “thallets”) appear in everything from children’s plastic toys to drugs, cosmetics, and insecticides. They are made from petroleum by-products and turn rigid plastics into pliable plastics. Worldwide, industries use five million metric tons of phthalates each year, so it’s no wonder these molecules show up in human body fluids and tissues. Industry trade association groups such as the American Chemistry Council claim that after a half century of use phthalates have never been proven to cause any health problems for a single human being.

That’s a huge claim to make and, if true, would make phthalates practically unique among all synthetic-chemical creations. But chinks are beginning to appear in this armor of perceived safety and respectability. A 2003 study, for example, conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, examined 168 male patients at a fertility clinic, measuring phthalate levels in their urine. Those men with the highest levels turned out to be up to five times more likely to have low sperm counts or low sperm activity essential to fertilization. A second study raising concerns about phthalates and reproductive health appeared in 2005, authored by scientists at the University of Copenhagen. They examined ninety-six baby boys and found the ones with abnormally low testosterone had been fed breast milk containing high levels of phthalates their mothers had absorbed from everyday plastic products.

These studies raised enough alarms that Japan banned certain phthalates from food-handling equipment in schools, and the European Union banned some types of phthalates from toys and cosmetics. By contrast, U.S. phthalate use continues to grow as the plastics and chemical industries loudly insist that we have nothing to worry about, that everything is normal.

Their dismissive attitude and posturing is perfectly understandable—though hardly defensible—because these industries are so dependent on the chemicals that medical science is calling into question. Corporate profits are at stake, and to even admit a health concern about their products would open them up to liability lawsuits. They are mostly stuck in a position of stubborn resistance to any scientific evidence that undermines the public’s faith in the benefits and safety of the synthetics belief system.

Fitzgerald, Randall (2006-06-22). The Hundred-Year Lie: How to Protect Yourself from the Chemicals That Are Destroying Your Health (p. 158). Plume. Kindle Edition.