Di(2-ethylhexyl) Phthalate (DEHP) in Public Water and Health

DEHP in public water

Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) is a man-made chemical. DEHP is not toxic at the low levels usually present in the environment. Exposure to DEHP is generally very low. The maximum contaminant level (MCL) for DEHP is 6 mcg/L.

Exposure and Risk

Exposure to DEHP is generally very low. Increased exposures may come from intravenous (IV) fluids delivered through plastic tubing, and from eating or drinking contaminated foods or water. DEHP is usually present at very low levels in the following:

  • Medical products packaged in plastic such as blood products
  • Some foods packaged in plastics, especially fatty foods like milk products, fish or seafood, and oils
  • Well water near waste sites
  • Workplace air or indoor air where DEHP is released, but usually not at levels of concern
  • Fluids from plastic IV tubing if used extensively, such as for kidney dialysis

Most of what we know about the health effects of DEHP comes from studies of rats and mice given high amounts of DEHP. In animals, high levels of DEHP damaged the liver and kidney and affected their ability to reproduce. Whether or not DEHP contributes to human kidney damage is unclear.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set the MCL for DEHP at 6µg/L. Some people who drink water containing DEHP over the MCL for many years may have problems with their liver, could experience reproductive difficulties, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer.


Community Public Water Systems are already being tested for DEHP, and are required to provide that information each year to consumers in the Consumer Confidence Report. It is almost impossible to completely avoid DEHP because it is commonly found in plastics. Prevent babies and small children from chewing on plastic objects that are not toys.