EPA Mandates Pollution Reporting for Widely Used Toxic Phthalate Chemical

The new rule affirms diisononyl phthalate, which companies put in food-contact materials and other consumer products, poses serious health risks.


Zahra Ahmad, Earthjustice, zahmad@earthjustice.org, (517) 898-0924

The Environmental Protection Agency today (EPA) affirmed health and environmental justice advocates’ concerns about the toxicity of diisononyl phthalate (DINP) by publishing a final rule mandating pollution reporting for the toxic chemical.

The EPA’s decision is a result of advocates suing the agency to include DINP in its Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) and after the agency determined there is robust evidence linking the chemical to reproductive, developmental, liver, and kidney damage. Communities and the EPA use the TRI, a comprehensive dataset of chemical releases, to understand how companies are polluting neighborhoods with toxic chemicals that can cause irreversible damage to their health.

People are exposed to DINP, a hormone-disrupting chemical, through products and food. The new rule requires companies to report DINP releases into the environment and gives people access to that information. The EPA proposed adding the chemical to the TRI in 2000 but never completed the process. Earthjustice clients Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Defend Our Health, Sierra Club, and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.) sued to force EPA to complete the long overdue rulemaking in 2021.

“This rule affirms that phthalates like DINP pose major risks to people’s health — and it will give communities long overdue access to information about how they are exposed to this toxic chemical,” said Earthjustice Attorney Katherine O’Brien. “Mandating TRI reporting is a step in the right direction, but the only way to protect people from the dangers of DINP and other phthalates is for EPA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban their use in products and food packaging.”

The EPA is currently evaluating how harmful DINP and other phthalates are to people’s health under the Toxic Substances Control Act. At the same time, the FDA is considering advocates’ requests to stop companies from using phthalates in food packaging and production equipment. Food is the primary way that most people are exposed to most phthalates. Phthalates leach into food and drinks when used in food packaging and food production equipment, contaminating products like milk, meat, fast food, snack foods, and spices.

These chemicals disrupt people’s hormones and are especially harmful to children, babies, and pregnant people. Studies show that exposure to these toxic chemicals can damage brain development, lowering attention spans, impacting IQ, and causing behavioral issues. Long-term exposure to phthalates is also linked to birth defects, infertility, miscarriage, breast cancer, diabetes, and asthma.

Quotes from clients and partners:

“EPA is 20 years past due in telling the public where phthalate chemicals are being released and how exposure to these compounds are harming public health,” said Jane Williams, chair of the Clean Air Team of the Sierra Club. “Their actions should help close that knowledge gap, but unless phthalates are banned from products, the chemicals’ exposure still threatens their health.”

“Exposure to phthalates like diisononyl phthalate (DINP) can have serious health consequences, including reproductive damage and an increased risk of breast cancer,” said Nancy Buermeyer, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners’ Director of Program and Policy. “While issuing this right-to-know policy is an important first step, it’s time for the EPA and FDA to prioritize our well-being and ban these harmful chemicals from products and food packaging.”

Sliced American cheese in plastic packaging are spread out on a wooden cutting board, next to toasted bread and white eggs in a ceramic egg-holder.
Food is the primary way that most people are exposed to most phthalates. Phthalates leach into food and drinks when used in food packaging and food production equipment. (Andrii Pohranychnyi / Getty Images)

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