Phthalates are plasticizers, chemicals that make our pipes more flexible and our upholstery more comfortable.
But phthalates are also one of about 70 suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) present in products ranging from makeup to detergents to children's toys. EDCs are now present in the bodies of every man, woman, child and fetus in the United States.
Pioneer zoologist Theo Colborn, in her book Our Stolen Future, reported countless examples of reproductive disorders among wildlife. Colborn traced the disorders to chemical exposure, and suggested that EDCs profoundly affect the endocrine system by mimicking natural hormones and blocking their uptake to the receptor sites.
This can disrupt everything from development and behavior to reproduction and immunity.
Even the tiniest hormone variation at certain critical points in fetal development can affect a child's future health. Two years ago, a study showed that pregnant women with higher urine concentrations of phthalates were more likely to give birth to sons with incomplete male genital development, a disorder that previously had been seen only in lab rats.