chemical information


Chemical Class:


Found in these people:

Andrea Martin, Bill Moyers, Davis Baltz, Lucy Waletsky, Michael Lerner, Sharyle Patton, Lexi Rome, Monique Harden, Charlotte Brody

Found in these locations:

Sausalito, CA; NJ, USA; Berkeley, CA; Pleasantville, NY; Bolinas, CA; Mill Valley, CA; New Orleans, LA; Round Hill, VA


Found within many consumer products, phthalates are industrial plasticizers that impart flexibility and resilience to plastic. Di-n-butyl phthalate is an industrial solvent or additive used in consumer products such as nail polish, cosmetics, some printing inks, adhesives, caulks, pharmaceutical coatings, and insecticides (EWG 2003; Wolff 2007). Exposure to dibutyl phthalates occurs through direct use of products containing these chemicals, as well as through inhalation of air containing these chemicals (CDC 2005).

In laboratory animals, fetal exposure to di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP) causes severe malformations of the male reproductive tract, including malformations of the penis, decreased sperm production and undescended testicles. In September 2000 researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that that every one of 289 people tested had DBP in their body. But the biggest surprise came when the researchers broke the data down by age and gender for the phthalate called DBP. They discovered that the most critical population, women of childbearing age whose fetuses are exposed to DBP in the womb, appear to receive the highest exposures (Blount 2000, Kohn 2000).

A recent study of 134 births found marked differences in the reproductive systems of baby boys whose mothers had the highest DBP metabolite measurements during pregnancy (Swan 2005). A second study indicates that these mothers' phthalate exposures were not extreme, but rather were typical for about one-quarter of all U.S. women (Marsee 2006). Further research documented decreased testosterone levels among baby boys exposed to DBP metabolites in their mother's breast milk (Main 2006). High levels of the metabolites are also linked to altered thyroid hormone levels in pregnant women (Huang 2007). In addition, DBP is considered neurotoxic, and may be developmentally neurotoxic (Grandjean 2006).

Because DBP can cause severe developmental effects on the male reproductive tract, there is concern that high levels of DBP in pregnant women could be associated with impaired reproductive function in their sons. The National Toxicology Program has recently concluded that the current exposure to DBP in women of reproductive age may be of concern for causing adverse effects to fetus and infants, especially for development of the reproductive system (CERHR 2000). The European Union is considering a ban on the use of DBP in cosmetics due to concerns about these reproductive effects (Ljung 2002). In contrast, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, a panel funded and advised by the cosmetic industry, determined that DBP is safe as used in cosmetics (CIR 2002).

Di-n-butyl phthalate

Used in nail polish, cosmetics, and other consumer products; linked to birth defects and male reproductive issues.

Di-n-butyl phthalate has been found in 9 of the 9 people tested in EWG/Commonweal studies.

Results for Di-n-butyl phthalate

in blood serum (lipid weight)

Showing results from EWG/Commonweal Study #1, industrial chemicals and pesticides in adults

EWG/Commonweal results

  • found in 9 of 9 people in the group

found in 9 of 9 people, but not quantified