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Ban on phthalate chemicals help exposure, but new chemicals are replacing them

Policies meant to protect people from suspect chemicals in toys and other plastics that have caused widespread public concern reduced levels of some of those chemicals in people’s bodies, according to NBC News on Wednesday.

However, the researchers also found evidence of increased exposure to other phthalates that could pose similar health risks.

Phthalates are used to make plastic more flexible, and are found in items such as nail polish, fragrances, plastic products and building materials. In 2009, the U.S. Congress voted to ban some of the chemicals from children's products because of their disruptive effects on human hormones.

"Exposure to three of the phthalates that have been banned in children's toys has decreased over 10 years," said lead researcher Ami Zota, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University's School of Public Health and Health Services.

For other phthalates, however, exposure has increased, Zota said. "[The increase is] probably because these new phthalates are replacing the phthalates that have been phased out," she said.

Phthalates are all over the place – in cosmetics, plastics and even in the air. They help make plastic pliable and they can help make fragrances stick to your skin or other surfaces.

Animal tests suggest they may be endocrine disruptors – hormone-altering chemicals that might raise the risk of birth defects or diabetes. A few human studies also suggest it’s possible, but what isn’t clear is whether people have enough of these chemicals in their body to do any harm, or whether the chemicals are actually causing any harm.

Although she could not say whether all phthalates should be banned, Zota said the lesson of the continuing phthalate story is a simple one: "We need to do a better job of understanding the health and safety ramifications of chemicals before they're used in a widespread manner," she said.

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Emily Sutherlin is also the Pregnancy Examiner.

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