Protecting brain development in children: neurotoxic effects of phthalates and need for critical policy reform

November 16, 2022 @ 10:00am (AKST)

On Wednesday, November 16, the Alaska Collaborative on Health and Environment (CHE-Alaska) was joined by Katherine O’Brien and Rashmi Joglekar from Earthjustice for a presentation on risks and harms to children associated with phthalates, the use of phthalates as food-additives, and recent legal action towards the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The widespread use of phthalates in consumer products leads to ubiquitous and constant exposure of humans to these chemicals. Pre-natal and childhood exposures to phthalates have been documented to adversely affect child brain development including associations with ADHD and lower IQ, as well as more well-known harms to male reproductive tract development. Consequently, young children, babies, and pregnant mothers are the most susceptible to adverse effects of phthalates, and bans are recommended to keep phthalates out of children’s toys and childcare products. In this webinar, our guests will present on recent and ongoing resistance from the FDA to restrict the presence of this class of chemicals from the US food supply and legal action being taken over the last 6 years to correct this.

In December 2021, Earthjustice [on behalf of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Environmental Defense Fund, Learning Disabilities Association of America, Center for Food Safety, Center for Environmental Health, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, and Defend Our Health], filed two lawsuits to compel the FDA to complete long overdue decisions on petitions submitted by Earthjustice and other organizations in 2016 asking the FDA to revoke its existing approvals for food-contact uses of phthalates and ban eight phthalates as food-additives.

Six years after their submission, and in direct response to this legal action, the FDA issued final decisions on both petitions in May 2022. As of June 2022, Earthjustice, on behalf of these objecting organizations, has submitted a response to the FDA detailing factual and legal errors in the federal decision to deny these petitions. This policy reform would help reduce our collective phthalate exposure and lessen the impacts of this chemical on child brain development.

Neurotoxicity of Ortho-Phthalates: Recommendations for Critical Policy Reforms to Protect Brain Development in Children (Engel et al., 2021; American Journal of Public Health)

FDA allows hormone-disrupting phthalates in food packaging (Center for Science in the Public Interest, May 2022) –

Anchorage’s Toxic-Free Trainings and Nap Mat Exchanges Make Childcare Centers Healthier (Healthy Babies Bright Futures, April 2021) –

Phthalates and cumulative risk assessment: the task ahead (National Research Council, 2008) Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Related CHE-Alaska webinars:

Microplastic pollution and the effects of phthalates and other plastic-born chemicals on Alaska’s ecosystems and Alaskans’ health

Featured speakers

Katherine O’Brien, JD, is a senior attorney with Earthjustice’s Toxic Exposure and Health Program. Prior to this position, Katherine, was an attorney in the Northern Rockies regional office for seven years and recieved her law degree from the University of Washington School of Law in 2012.



Rashmi Joglekar, PhD, is a staff scientist with Earthjustice’s Toxic Exposure and Health Program and holds a Ph.D. from the Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Program at Duke University where she specialized in neurodevelopmental toxicology.


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