Learn about phthalates and if they're safe.

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About phthalates

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used in plastics to soften and increase flexibility. They're also used as solvents in household products:

  • self-care products, such as:
    • cosmetics
    • non-prescription drugs
    • natural health products
  • construction and renovation products, such as:
    • building materials
    • lubricants and greases
    • paints and coatings
    • adhesives and sealants
  • fabrics and textiles
  • electrical items and electronics
  • children's toys and child care articles

Phthalates may also be used in:

  • printing inks
  • automotive products
  • pest control products
  • some food packaging materials

You may be exposed to phthalates as a result of using these products. You may also be exposed to phthalates from indoor air, dust, water and food.

Safety of phthalates

We assessed the potential health and environmental risks of several phthalate substances through a draft chemical risk assessment.

In general, we are proposing that phthalates do not pose a risk to health or the environment at current levels of exposure. There are 2 exceptions:

  1. DEHP
  2. B79P

Our 1994 assessment found that DEHP was harmful to human health. Our most recent assessment found that both DEHP and B79P may be harmful to the environment.

Ongoing protective measures

Canada took action following the 1994 assessment to limit Canadians' exposure to DEHP by:

  • banning its use in cosmetics
  • managing its use in medical devices
  • regulating its use in the vinyl in children's toys and child-care articles

If the final assessment confirms our draft findings, we will take steps to protect the environment from DEHP and B79P.

If levels of exposure to phthalates increase, some phthalates could pose a risk to our health and/or the environment. Canada may continue to:

  • monitor new information on phthalate exposure
  • take action as necessary

Minimize your exposure to phthalates

You can minimize your exposure to phthalates. Use these tips:

  • read product labels and the manufacturer's directions:
    • check the list of ingredients for cosmetics
    • choose products labelled as phthalate- or PVC-free
      • check for the plastic recycling code 3, which identifies PVC products
      • be aware that some soft or flexible plastic products made with PVC may contain phthalates
      • contact the manufacturer if you are unsure if your product contains phthalates or PVC
    • choose products that are fragrance-free, as some fragrances contain phthalates
    • follow safety warnings and directions
    • use, store and dispose of the product safely
  • store and microwave food safely:
    • use only glass, stainless steel or food-grade plastic containers (grades 1, 2, 4 and 5) to heat or store food
    • use only plastic wrap in the microwave that is labelled microwave-safe
    • avoid using plastics and containers that are visibly damaged, stained or have an unpleasant smell
    • let the food cool before storing and then refrigerate immediately
  • keep away from children:
    • keep soft PVC items not intended for children out of reach
    • do not let a child suck or chew on soft plastic products that are not intended for children

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