Phthalates are hard to escape, with tests showing that they’re found in dairy products, meats and cheeses, tap water that’s been tainted by industrial waste, and in the pesticides sprayed on conventional fruits and vegetables.

The Details: Phthalates are plasticizing chemicals used in everything, from pesticides and fragranced soaps and shampoos, to nail polish and vinyl shower curtains. They make plastic products more flexible and difficult to break, while acting as lubricants in cosmetics. What’s alarming is that they’re found in our food, too, from pesticides and human sewage sludge being applied as a fertilizer to farm fields. The sludge is tainted with shampoo chemicals that wash down the drain.

The Risks: The effect of phthalates, especially on male reproductive development, has been observed since the 40s, and phthalates are now widely known to be endocrine disruptors because they interfere with the function of hormones. Phthalate exposure, even in small amounts, has been linked to behavioral problems in children, allergies and asthma, eczema, and unhealthy changes in our hormonal systems.

The Alternatives: Avoid fragrance in all products, opting only for those scented with essential oils, or whose labels specifically say ‘phthalate-free’. Always use only natural air fresheners. Ditch plastic toys made before 2009, which is when phthalates were banned from children’s plastic products. Don’t heat food in plastic, opt for glass food storage containers, and choose bottles, sippy and snack cups that are mostly stainless steel, silicone, or glass. Eat organic produce, meat, and dairy. Invest in a water filter with a nano-filtration system.

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Simona is a journalist who has worked with several leading publications in India over the last 17 years, writing on lifestyle topics and the arts, besides interviewing celebrities. She made the switch to public relations and headed the division as PR Manager at ITC Hotels’ flagship property, the ITC Grand Chola, but has since returned to her first love, journalism. Now she writes on food, which she is sincerely passionate about and wellness, which she finds fascinating and full of surprises. When she isn’t writing, she is busy playing the role of co-founder and communications director of The Bicycle Project, a six-year-old charity initiative that empowers tribal children in rural areas, while addressing the issue of urban waste.