200 Lawyers 15 Offices 620 Cases

Earthjustice goes to court for our planet.
We’re here because the earth needs a good lawyer.

It’s Time to Ban These Toxic Chemicals from Our Food

Phthalates, a type of chemical used in food packaging and production materials, can leach into food and drinks and cause serious harm to human health. For years, the FDA has illegally ignored Earthjustice’s petition to ban these chemicals. In 2021, we sued to force the FDA to decide on banning phthalates. Last year it declined to do so, so we need your help in telling the FDA to get these hormone-disrupting chemicals out of our food.

This case is part of Earthjustice’s broader fight to remove toxic, dangerous products from our daily lives.

Phthalates cause harm — and they’re everywhere.

  • Phthalates leach from plastic wrapping into the foods they touch. They’re especially likely to leach into fatty foods like cheeses and meats. (Click here for a full list.)
  • In 2017, for example, lab testing found phthalates in 10 varieties of macaroni and cheese powders.
  • Even at low levels, phthalates can interfere with human hormones. Animal studies have linked phthalates to a host of serious health concerns, including birth defectsallergies and damage to the male genitals.
  • Phthalates also harm the developing brain, leading to reduced IQ and attention and behavior disorders in children.
  • Babies, young people, people of color in all age groups, and economically insecure people all face heightened risks of serious health problems from phthalate exposure.
  • Almost all people in the U.S. have measurable levels of the breakdown products of one or more phthalates in their bodies.

The FDA has delayed measures for regulating phthalates for years.

  • Federal law prohibits the use of chemical additives in food unless the available scientific evidence demonstrates that they will not harm human health. This mandate also applies to chemicals used in food packaging and food-production materials if the chemicals are expected to migrate into food — as is the case with phthalates.
  • Yet the FDA allows nine different types of phthalates to be used in food packaging and processing equipment.
  • In 2016, a coalition of advocacy groups petitioned FDA to ban phthalates as food additives.
  • Alongside the petition, the FDA received an overwhelming response from nearly 200,000 people, all of whom strongly urged the agency to withdraw its approval for phthalates in food.
  • Many commenters were concerned about the effects phthalates have on children — and rightly so. Others mentioned their battles with cancer and other diseases, and their desire to spare others similar pain.
  • Despite a legal mandate to make a final decision within 180 days, FDA sat on the petition for years.

The FDA’s decision means phthalate contamination will continue.

  • Advocates sued the FDA in federal court in December 2021, forcing the agency to finally make a decision.
  • In May 2022, the FDA declined to ban phthalates in food packaging. At the same time, the agency acknowledged that its safety assessment for food-contact uses of phthalates is out of date and requested new information from the public.

Top scientists agree we already have all the data we need. Tell the FDA to get phthalates out of our food once and for all! 

The FDA received an outpouring of comments from the public voicing concern about phthalates, harmful chemicals used in food packaging and processing equipment.
The FDA received an outpouring of comments from the public voicing concern about phthalates, harmful chemicals used in food packaging and processing equipment. (pirtuss/Shutterstock)