California senator Dianne Feinstein, middle, has gone after phthalates before. Now she wants to get rid of them in food packaging.
Photo: Mark Wilson (Getty Images)

Noted GMG fave Senator Feinstein (D-CA) is set to wage a new crusade in a wake of a sobering study published this week: She wants to get hormone-disrupting chemicals known as phthalates out of our food packaging.

As reported by Gizmodo, the study found that people who mostly dined out the day before had phthalate levels 35 percent higher than people had who mostly eaten food prepared at home. Children overall had the highest levels of phthalates in the study sample, which was 10,000 Americans over the age of six who had taken a comprehensive, nationally representative survey between 2005 to 2014. The greatest difference in phthalate exposure between diners and non-diners, 55 percent, was seen in teens.

Phthalates (pronounced thal·ates) are found everywhere, from cosmetics to medical devices, and are used to help keep plastics flexible and durable. Food in particular seems to be our greatest source of phthalate exposure. And the researchers, as well as an outside expert Gizmodo spoke to, say that phthalates commonly found in food packaging seem to be a primary vehicle of secondhand contamination.

Scientists and organizations such as the World Health Organization have classified phthalates as endocrine disruptors, capable of mucking with our hormonal balance, particularly androgens like testosterone. Research in both animals and humans has linked exposure to endocrine disruptors in the womb to learning and behavioral problems in young children, genital birth defects in boys, and thyroid problems in girls. In adults, they’ve been associated with obesity, certain cancers, and possibly even dementia.

“Despite those risks, it’s nearly impossible for families to avoid some level of exposure. These chemicals can be found throughout the food supply chain, from the plastic gloves worn to handle food to the containers used for packaging,” Feinstein said in a statement released Thursday, which referenced the new study. “When Congress is back in session, I plan to introduce legislation that would remove phthalates from food packaging, phasing them out over the next five years, to help reduce our exposure to these harmful chemicals.”

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It’s not the first time Feinstein has spoken out against phthalates. A decade ago, she helped lead a successful charge to have certain phthalates banned from being used in children’s toys.

A 2014 report found that at least 10 percent of expectant mothers in the US are exposed to unsafe levels of phthalates. But some experts have warned there’s likely no safe level of exposure, at least for certain phthalates in wide use.

Congress gets back into session on Monday, April 2.

Update: Ami Zota, senior author of the study, had this to say:

“I am encouraged to hear that Senator Feinstein is considering policy measures based on sound science. Efforts such as these would improve public health and address the problem of phthalates in our food supply.”

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