Print Friendly and PDF
Promising growth: DEHP exposure research

Promising growth: DEHP exposure research

Since DEHP exposure first appeared on the research field in the '70s, awareness has grown exponentially

We have some good news this week about DEHP: The science focused on one of the most common – and concerning – plastic additives in health care settings is booming.


On Monday President Biden announced a major effort to curb PFAS pollution. The proposed roadmap is a positive demonstration of new attention toward commonly used but harmful chemicals.

We expect that call to spill over and cast greater national attention to address another scrutinized class of chemicals: phthalates, particularly DEHP, one of the most problematic members of that family.

Phthalates have a host of handy industrial uses, from softening plastic and binding makeup to making ink stick to plastic bags. Scientists have recorded nearly as many adverse health impacts, from cancer and diabetes to infertility. The additives became part of the national conversation earlier this year with the publication of Dr. Shanna Swan's Count Down, linking phthalates to global declines in male fertility.

One of the more common phthalates in health care settings is DEHP, a plastic softener commonly found in IV sets and known to cause cancer, harm the male reproductive system and, in children, impair brain development. But here's the good news: A quick scan of PubMed's database for studies on DEHP exposure demonstrates increased scientific attention to phthalates research.

Read more: The "Everywhere Chemical"—Might Phthalates Become the Next PFAS?

DEHP research grows exponentially

PubMed's records on DEHP exposure span a period of roughly 50 years: we can see slow growth beginning to occur in the early 2000s, peaking at present in 2020 with 263 studies surrounding DEHP exposure.

We've highlighted two 2021 studies this week in the Science section of our biweekly newsletter, Code Green. They focus on exposure during IVF treatments for women facing fertility issues and on exposure by premature infants during NICU treatments. These two studies both point specifically toward DEHP exposure within the health care system, exacerbating symptoms that brought patients in seeking healing in the first place or introducing their bodies to new levels of chemicals that may produce new repercussions.

As studies continue to come out, federal attention to phthalates may emerge. Regardless, we can point to 50 years of research showing that the health care sector needs to address exposures during medical treatment.

Phthalate research: Where it all began

You may be curious: What did we know about DEHP in 1975? The below image shows the four studies published over 1975-1976: Two decades before most students in medical school today were born, we had a warning bell that DEHP was leaching into patients via the plastic bags used in blood transfusions.

The science is nearly 50 years old: Perhaps it's time for some action.

DEHP results from PubMed, 1975-1976

From climate change to everyday-use plastic products, increasing sustainability in the health care system is complex. Taking steps to reduce bodily exposure to phthalates is one example of positive change.

Become a donor
Today's top news

Evidence of PFAS in sanitary and incontinence pads

The findings come on the heels of other testing that found the forever chemicals in some popular tampons.

EU’s new climate change plan will cause biodiversity loss and deforestation: Analysis

In a plan full of sustainable efforts, the incentivizing of biomass burning has climate experts concerned.

From our newsroom

Peter Dykstra: Public disservants

A quartet of Interior Secretaries who gave the rest a bad name.

Op-ed: It’s time to re-think the United Nations’ COP climate negotiations

Instead of focusing on negotiations, let the main event be information sharing, financing and partnerships that produce faster technological change.

LISTEN: Beau Taylor Morton on the power of community organizing

“People can see you engaged and wanting to begin the work, not only as a researcher, but you’re invested in the community.”

Op-ed: What the media gets wrong about the new world population numbers

The last time that we lived within the productivity limits of our planet was about 50 years ago — that is a problem.

Pennsylvania’s first proposed hazardous waste landfill would be near homes and schools

Residents can voice their opinions at an upcoming public hearing or in public comments.