On February 18, 2021, the project TENDR (Targeting Environmental Neuro-Development Risks) led by Stephanie Engel from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published a review in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Public Health on the connection between ortho-phthalate exposure and increased risk for developing learning, attention, and behavioral disorders in childhood. The authors also provided five recommendations to reduce the public’s phthalate exposure rates.

The authors analyzed experimental and epidemiological data from more than 30 birth cohort studies that examined the effect of prenatal exposure to different types of phthalates, including bis(2-Ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP; CAS 117-81-7), dibutyl phthalate (DBP; CAS 84-74-2), as well as diethyl phthalate (DEP; CAS 84-66-2). 

The authors looked at many behavioral and neurodevelopmental parameters, however, the strongest correlation across all analyzed studies was found for phthalate exposure and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Findings from a previous study by Engel and colleagues described that children whose mothers had high exposure to DEHP metabolites during pregnancy had a three times higher probability of being diagnosed with ADHD. Another article published by Zhang et al. in Neuro Toxicology found pre-natal exposure to DEHP, DBP, BBzP, and DEP was, among others, associated with lower IQ. 

In addition to neurodevelopmental and behavioral effects, previous studies have linked phthalates to childhood obesity, asthma (FPF reported), cardiovascular issues (FPF reported), cancer (FPF reported), and reproductive problems such as male fertility (FPF reported).

Due to the growing amount of scientific findings linking phthalates to human health issues, the authors call for quick governmental and cooperative action to eliminate sources of phthalate exposure to pregnant women, children, women of reproductive age as well as infants. Therefore, the experts recommend focusing on reducing phthalate exposure via diet, medical supplies, medication, personal care products, as well as, avoiding regrettable substitutions.

Just recently, several large companies announced plans to phase out phthalates and other toxic chemicals from their products including Amazon (FPF reported) and most recently Annie’s Homegrown (FPF reported).


Engel et al. (February 18, 2021). “Neurotoxicity of Ortho-Phthalates: Recommendations for Critical Policy Reforms to Protect Brain Development in Children.” American Journal of Public Health

Read More

Maureen Swanson (February 18, 2021). “New TENDR Article, “Nerotoxicity of Ortho-Phthalates: Recommendations for Critical Policy Reforms to Protect Brain Development in Children” in today’s American Journal of Public Health.” Project TENDR

Sandee LaMotte (February 20, 2021). Chemicals in plastics damage babies’ brains and must be banned immediately, expert group says. CNN

Engel et al. (May 2021). “Prenatal Phthalates, Maternal Thyroid Function, and Risk of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort.” Environmental Health Perspectives

Zhang et al. (July 2019). “Review: The association between prenatal exposure to phthalates and cognition and neurobehavior of children-evidence from birth cohorts.” NeuroToxicology

Michael Corkery (February 19, 2021). “Annie’s Pledges to Purge a Class of Chemicals From Its Mac and Cheese.