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Human Exposures to DEHP

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studied human tissue to understand patterns of human exposure. These studies document that childhood exposure to phthalates is widespread.294 The CDC found that children aged 6-11 years excrete higher concentrations of phthalate metabolites than older age groups.295 Younger children appear to have higher concentrations of DEHP, possibly due to higher food consumption related to body weight, mouthing behavior, and/or playing near the ground296 (i.e., coming into closer contact with PVCtype flooring products). The DEHP dose taken up by nursery school children was found to be about twice as high as the dose taken up by adults.297 The total intake of DEHP, excluding non-dietary ingestion, is higher in all children younger than 19 years than in adults, but the highest exposure is in children six months to four years old.298 In addition to an increased risk of exposure to DEHP, research on its metabolite, MEHP, indicates that it may have a longer half-life in the body of young infants.

Women of childbearing age were found to have significantly higher phthalate exposures than other adults.300 A study measuring levels of phthalates in personal air samples collected from pregnant women in New York and Poland found DEHP in 100% of air and urine samples.301 Fetal exposure to DEHP has been shown to be closely related to maternal exposure.302

A German study of DEHP daily intake found that nearly one-third of the men and women in the study exceeded the U.S. EPA RfD limit for DEHP.303 Another study correlated DEHP intake with the intensive use of DEHP in plastics. In a recent Taiwanese study, 85% of the study participants exceeded the U.S. RfD for DEHP, and the authors concluded that the body burden of DEHP for Taiwanese reflects the intensive use of plastic materials.304 Similarly, a 2007 German study reported a correlation of the daily intake of DEHP in university students with the regional industrial production of DEHP.305 DEHP is in many products that children are exposed to, including foods packaged in some plastics, indoor air (from vinyl flooring, wallpaper, furniture and paints), and soft PVC toys and pacifiers. Childhood exposure to DEHP is a concern because of its heavy production, common presence as an environmental contaminant, leaching potential, and hormonal activity. Children may be exposed to DEHP by mouthing plastic toys or pacifiers, eating foods contaminated with DEHP from packaging or during manufacturing, breathing contaminated air inside homes, or receiving medical care in hospitals.


Packaged Food and Beverages
The major source of exposure to DEHP for most children is food (Table 8).306 DEHP has been detected in many foods common in a child’s diet, including milk, cheese, meat, margarine, eggs, cereal products, baby food, infant formula, and fish.307 The migration of phthalates from packaging materials to foods, particularly fatty foods, is a well known source of food contamination.308

Baby Food, Infant Formula, and Breast Milk
Phthalates, including DEHP, have been detected in baby food in studies from several countries

Indoor Air Exposure: Building Materials and Furnishings
Phthalate esters have been recognized as major indoor pollutants in homes and schools.344 DEHP is widely used in building and furniture materials, including furniture upholstery, mattresses, wall coverings, floor tiles, and vinyl flooring.

Indoor Air Exposure: Fragrances
DEHP is often used in cosmetics and personal care products to carry fragrances. Under current law, phthalates can simply be listed as “fragrance” on the label, even if they are a large component of the product.

Toys and Infant Supplies
Soft plastic products intended to be in the mouths of infants and young children, including toys, pacifiers, teethers, and nipples, may contain DEHP.

Medical Equipment
DEHP is the most commonly used phthalate in medical devices, and phthalates have been used in medical equipment since the 1950s. DEHP is used to soften PVC products, such as medical tubing and blood storage bags, and can be found in blood and intravenous bags containing fluids used in neonatal care units, pediatric wards, and throughout hospitals.

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