Closing the Exposure Assessment Gap: A Case Study of Phthalates

July 20, 2023 , 1:00 pm 2:00 pm EDT

Exposure assessment is a core element of risk assessment, which is used as the basis for regulatory decision making on chemicals in the US. Exposure assessment systematically fails to provide realistic information to policymakers, leading to underestimates of risk and inadequate regulation. 

Phthalates, a class of chemicals that affect male reproductive development among other adverse effects, provide an example of chemicals that are inadequately regulated, due in part to incomplete assessments of exposure. Phthalates are used widely in plastics, personal care products, fragrances, and other applications. 

In this webinar, Dr. Bhavna Shamasunder will explain the problems with current approaches to exposure assessment, and will describe ways in which EPA could improve its approach in the short term. She will present the example of phthalates as a case study of the patchwork regulatory environment, the ways in which incomplete exposure assessments contribute to the problem, and the options for improving EPA’s approach. Her discussion of exposure assessment will draw upon and build on a recent study, Addressing Systemic Problems with Exposure Assessments to Protect the Public’s Health

Women of color are disproportionately exposed to consumer product chemicals. Many of these chemicals are endocrine-active. Exposure is associated with hormone-mediated health conditions including uterine fibroids, preterm birth, diabetes, asthma, immunosuppression, and breast cancer. Dr. Shamasunder and Dr. Astrid Williams will discuss racial disparities in exposures to phthalates and implications for health, drawing upon the findings of the Taking Stock study on impacts of beauty products on Black and Latina women’s health. Dr. Micaela Martinez of WE ACT for Environmental Justice will add to the conversation, sharing information on policy initiatives related to toxic chemicals in personal care products. 

The webinar will be moderated by Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz of Earthjustice, who will place the discussion in a framework of on-going work to address the cumulative risk of phthalates and other chemicals of high concern under the Toxic Substances Control Act. He will also discuss implications for environmental justice activities at EPA, and will highlight opportunities to take action on this issue. 

This webinar is the first of two webinars cosponsored by CHE, the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE)’s Science Action Network, and the UCSF Environmental Research and Translation for Health (EaRTH) Center, in which speakers will discuss the implications of a series of recent studies from PRHE on options for strengthening the chemical regulatory process. Together, these studies offer a road map through which EPA has the opportunity to improve regulation of chemicals in the short term, with existing authorities.