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  1. R Hauser1,
  2. A M Calafat2
  1. 1Department of Environmental Health, Occupational Health Program, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115, USA
  2. 2National Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA 30341, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Prof. Associate R Hauser
 Occupational Health Program, Harvard School of Public Health, Building 1, Room 1405, 665 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA;

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The diesters of 1,2-benzenedicarboxylic acid (phthalic acid), commonly known as phthalates, are a group of man-made chemicals with a wide spectrum of industrial applications (fig 1, table 1). High molecular weight phthalates (for example, di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate [DEHP], di-isononyl phthalate [DiNP], di-n-octyl phthalate [DnOP]), are primarily used as plasticizers in the manufacture of flexible vinyl which, in turn, is used in consumer products, flooring and wall coverings, food contact applications, and medical devices.1–3 Manufacturers use low molecular weight phthalates (for example, diethyl phthalate [DEP] and dibutyl phthalate [DBP]) in personal-care products (for example, perfumes, lotions, cosmetics), as solvents and plasticizers for cellulose acetate, and in making lacquers, varnishes, and coatings, including those used to provide timed releases in some pharmaceuticals.3–5

View this table:
Table 1

 Potential sources of exposure and health effects of selected phthalates

Figure 1

 Generic chemical structure of phthalates diesters and phthalate monoester metabolites. R is an alkyl and/or aryl group: CH3 (dimethyl phthalate), CH2CH3 (diethyl phthalate), CH2CH2CH2CH3 (dibutyl phthalate), CH2CH(CH2CH3)CH2CH2CH2CH3 (di[2-ethylhexyl) phthalate), CH2CH2CH2CH3 and CH2C6H5 (butylbenzyl phthalate).

In this paper, we review the uses and metabolism of phthalates, and the studies on health effects of phthalates in human populations published between 1973 and June 2005. The references included in this review were searched using the Web of Science database which provides interactive citation and literature searching of the Institute for Scientific Information’s Science Citation Index Expanded. The database contains data from more than 5000 scientific journals and covers the period from 1980 to present. We also searched the bibliography cited in the selected references for additional relevant citations.


Because phthalates are widely used in …

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  • Funding: this work was supported in part by grants ES09718 and ES00002 from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

  • Competing interests: none