Graduation Year


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Gender and Women's Studies

Second Department

Environmental Analysis

Reader 1

Mary Ann Davis

Reader 2

Emily Wiley

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© 2015 Lauren Mitten


Phthalates are a class of ubiquitous environmental contaminants that cause health problems including reproductive disorders, asthma, and obesity. Advocacy against phthalates has been taking place in the US since the mid-1990s, and eight in-depth interviews were conducted with advocates and scientists in order to construct a history of this advocacy. There have been a variety of campaigns and victories; those around medical devices, children’s products, and personal care products are examined in detail. Phthalate exposure data for a representative sample of the US population indicates that exposure to DEP, DEHP, DnBP, and BBzP went down between 1999 and 2010. As these were the phthalates that had the largest volume of advocacy during the period researched, this decrease suggests that advocacy around specific phthalates is effective in reducing exposure and that more advocacy around phthalates, and potentially other harmful chemicals, could result in further decreased exposure and improved health in the US population. Additional research using more finely graded biomonitoring data would help deepen understanding about correlations between advocacy and phthalate exposure. In reviewing the health effects of phthalates, it was found that a disproportionate amount of the research is on male reproductive health effects, which is partially responsible for the fact that a disproportionate amount of phthalate advocacy is on heath effects relating to men, particularly male babies. Both phthalate science and advocacy sometimes treat women instrumentally, objectifying them or regarding them as incubators. To combat this, scientists could do more research on the health effects of phthalates on women and advocates could take more care not to neglect or instrumentalize women in their efforts to reduce phthalate exposure for all people.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.