For the first time, manufacturers who use hormone-disrupting chemicals known as phthalates in their products have reported their use to the state of Maine. A new report released Thursday by the Environmental Health Strategy Center reveals that phthalates are in more household items than previously thought.
Emma Halas O’Connor of the Environmental Health Strategy Center recently renovated her house, which, among other things, required a lot of paint and a lot of caulk.
“These are all new windows, and as I learned — I learned a lot of stuff — when you put in new windows, the way you seal them from the outside is you use a lot of caulking,” she says.
What O’Connor has also learned is that the caulking product she used contains phthalates. She knows this thanks to a new state reporting requirement, through which 14 manufacturers have disclosed their use of phthalates in more than 130 products.
“The data shows that phthalates really are used everywhere,” she says. “Every room in your house, or any school, you’re going to find phthalates used in products that kids and pregnant women can easily be exposed to.”
Phthalates are a concern because they’re a hormone-disrupting chemical that’s linked to birth defects, learning disabilities and allergies and asthma.
The new data show that phthalates are in paint, flooring and wall decals. They’re in hair products and lotions, and even art supplies, jewelry and clothing. Retail Clothing chain The Gap reported phthalates in the plastic tips of shoelaces and drawstrings.
“My first thought was, ‘Oh, they’re just this tiny use.’ And then I thought, ‘Wait a minute. Kids chew on drawstrings,’” O’Connor says.
The new reporting requirement is the result of a citizen-led campaign in 2014 that ultimately resulted in four types of phthalates being listed as “priority chemicals” under the state’s Kid Safe Products Act.
Zach Bouchard became concerned after getting tested for the presence of phthalates in his body.
“I was pretty good relative to the average in the country,” he says. “My wife’s levels were double.”
Bouchard lives with his wife and two young kids in Portland. He says they try to use nonchemical, eco-friendly products as much as possible.
“We live in the same house and use generally the same things. So not knowing why hers would be higher than mine was a very uncomfortable problem. Which really gets to the whole issue of, we really don’t know what’s in any of the stuff we buy,” he says.
Other states, such as Washington, require manufacturers to report their use of phthalates for products designed for kids up to age 12. Maine’s law goes a step further by requiring reporting on any consumer product used in homes, schools and child care facilities.
“It shows you that when citizens take action, it can lead to really useful and important information,” says Kathy Kilrain del Rio, director of program and development at the Maine Women’s Lobby, which advocated for the phthalate reporting requirement.
Kilrain del Rio says the Maine Women’s Lobby is currently watching a federal bill that would give the Environmental Protection Agency more authority to restrict the use of dangerous chemicals.
“Unfortunately, the one thing we’re really worried about is that there’s a pre-emption piece in the current legislation that would stop states like Maine, which have been real leaders on chemical safety, and keep them from being able to take action if the EPA hasn’t taken action yet,” she says.
O’Connor says she hopes the new data will spur more reporting and restrictions in Maine. She believes not all manufacturers are fulfilling the phthalate reporting requirement.