PROTECT Investigator Featured in CBS News Report on Phthalates

Feb 7, 2024 | Media Coverage of PROTECT, Project 1 (Targeted Epidemiology), PROTECT Team

Project 1 Lead John Meeker was interviewed as part of a recent CBS News story about the risks of phthalate exposure to human health after a January Consumer Reports study found the chemicals in multiple popular food products.

Phthalates are a class of chemicals commonly used to enhance durability in plastic products, and they have been detected in food products before. Consumer Reports conducted their study to see how present they are despite the growing knowledge that they may present health threats. Through their investigation, Consumer Reports found high levels of phthalates in products including Del Monte sliced peaches, Fairlife Core Power protein shakes, and fast-food products like Wendy’s chicken nuggets and the Burger King Whopper. They also found that the levels of these chemicals for similar products from different brands, like a slice of pizza, varied from company to company: a Pizza Hut slice had half the level of phthalates as a pizza slice from Little Caesars.

Because of the widespread use of phthalates and the varied levels of chemicals found in each product, it is difficult to identify when exactly they are introduced to products. Exposure and contamination can come from a range of sources: materials used in production, like gloves and conveyor belts, contaminated water and soil, and product packaging.

There is more and more research showing that phthalate exposure may be harmful to human health. In the CBS News report, Dr. Meeker shared how these chemicals can specifically threaten reproductive health. He shared that exposure to phthalates may lead to decreased testosterone and quality of sperm as well as decreased quality of eggs. Past PROTECT Project 2 research demonstrated that exposure to chemicals, including phthalates, may be linked to adverse birth outcomes. A PROTECT Project 1 study later found that exposure to a mixture of phthalate metabolites has a strong association with oxidative stress, which may explain the mechanisms behind the link between phthalate exposure and adverse birth outcomes. A major NIH multi-cohort study from 2022 that included PROTECT found even more evidence of a link between multiple phthalate exposure and an increased risk of preterm birth.

As the use of phthalates in products remains high, PROTECT researchers continue to investigate the link between this class of chemicals and reproductive health, and, later, child development.

You can watch the full CBS News story here.