Toxic Chemicals in Plastic Products
How do plastics affect our health? Unfortunately, the ingredients in plastic products include toxic chemicals such as phthalate plasticizers and flame retardants.
The use of plastics is soaring, from the bags at the grocery store to the vinyl flooring in our homes. Though plastics may be convenient, their negative side has also become clear: oceans filling with plastic trash and communities struggling with disposal. We also now know that with their increased production, the manufacture of plastics has become a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and driver of climate change.
Plastic additives can leach from food cans and water bottles into our food, escape into the indoor air of our homes, and are found in microplastics. Even before birth, children are exposed to plastics that can harm their development. The universal exposure of pregnant women to toxic plastic ingredients means every fetus develops in the presence of hormone-disrupting chemicals. And as we learn more about microplastics, researchers have found they even contaminate human placenta. Exposures continue once babies are born, with many babies’ first food—breast milk—contaminated with a cocktail of plastics ingredients.
Many chemicals that are added to plastics, whether for flexibility, flame resistance, stain resistance, or durability, have not been adequately screened for safety. Meanwhile, research has found that a number of well-known additives—plasticizers like phthalates, PFAS in clothing, and flame retardants used in electronics—are associated with serious health conditions.
Impacts on workers, low-income communities, and communities of color
The production and disposal of plastics, such as PVC plastic, have an especially high impact on workers, low-income communities, and communities of color. “Cancer alley,” located on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, accounts for 25% of the petrochemical production in the United States. Cancer rates in the region are much higher than the national average, and majority Black communities are more at risk than white ones. And with their highly toxic combustion products, plastics like PVC/vinyl pose a serious danger in areas where incinerators and landfills are located.
What must be done
We can build healthier and more resilient communities by drastically reducing plastic use and moving to safer materials and processes. This includes replacing plastic bottles with glass and vinyl flooring with linoleum. As a result of our science and research, together with our advocacy for better policies at the national, state, and corporate level, governments and major retailers have taken action on toxic plastics.
What we’re doing
We are working to reduce the use of toxic plastics and the dangerous chemical additives, such as vinyl, polystyrene, PET, PFAS, toxic flame retardants, phthalates, and antimony, by winning government and market policies. We support prevention-based policies that include ingredient transparency, assessment of chemical hazards, bans on the most hazardous, and requirements for the use of the safest options.
- Lowe’s, The Home Depot, Menards, Floor and Decor, and others committed to stop the sale of vinyl flooring containing hormone-disrupting phthalates—stopping the use of tens of millions of pounds of these harmful additives.
- Washington state is pursuing regulatory restrictions on phthalates in vinyl flooring.
- Amazon announced that it will end the use of PFAS, phthalates, BPA and other bisphenols, vinyl, polystyrene (PS), and expanded polystyrene (EPS) in certain private-label food contact materials.