Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. They are often called plasticizers. Some phthalates are used as solvents for other materials. They are used in hundreds of products that most people are exposed to on a regular basis.

Human health effects from exposure to low levels of phthalates are not well known. Some types of phthalates have affected the reproductive system of laboratory animals.  Some phthalates have already been banned in certain child care articles and toys.

People are exposed to phthalates by eating and drinking foods that have been in contact with containers and products containing phthalates. Exposure can also occur from breathing in air that contains phthalate vapors or dust contaminated with phthalate particles.

Children can be exposed to phthalates by chewing on soft vinyl toys or other products made with the chemicals. Young children may have a greater risk of being exposed to phthalate particles in dust than adults because of their hand-to-mouth behaviors.

People at the highest risk of exposure to phthalates include dialysis patients, hemophiliacs, or people who received blood transfusions from sources that use tubing or containers made with phthalates. The Food and Drug Administration has recommended steps to minimize exposure of patients to medical devices that contain phthalates and recommended use of alternative devices for certain procedures.

Others at high risk include painters, printers and workers exposed to phthalates during the manufacture, formulation and processing of plastics.