Closing the Exposure Assessment Gap: A Case Study of Phthalates

July 20, 2023
1:00 pm US Eastern Time

Slides & Resources


Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz: Closing the Exposure Assessment Gap

Dr. Bhavna Shamasunder & Dr. Astrid Williams: Closing the Exposure Assessment Gap: Community Based Research and the Taking Stock Study.

Dr. Micaela Martinez: WE ACT's Beauty Inside Out Campaign


Rachel Massey and Swati Rayasam: How and Why to Close the Exposure Assessment Gap


Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE). 2023. Strengthening the Chemical Regulatory Process. (Consensus statement and series of studies.)

Taking Stock Study (Exploring the impacts of beauty products on Black and Latina women in California.)

Taking Stock Study Findings (Infographics/summary)

Trowbridge, J. 2023. CRAs can help EPA more accurately estimate risks from toxic chemical exposures. PRHE blog, June 8, 2023.

Vandenberg, L. et al. 2023. Addressing systemic problems with exposure assessments to protect the public’s healthEnvironmental Health 21 (Suppl 1), 121. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-022-00917-0

Vandenberg, L. et al. 2023. The weak link: gaps in exposure assessments. PRHE blog, January 19, 2023. 


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 discussed the problems with current approaches to exposure assessment. She presented the example of phthalates as a case study of the patchwork regulatory environment, and noted the ways in which incomplete and inadequate exposure assessments contribute to the problem. Her discussion drew upon 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 discussed 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 shared information on policy initiatives related to toxic chemicals in personal care products. 

The webinar was moderated by Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz of Earthjustice, who placed 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 explored how gaps in exposure assessment contribute to inadequate regulation, and discussed implications for environmental justice. 

This webinar was 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. These webinars build upon a series of recent studies from PRHE on options for strengthening the chemical regulatory process. Together, the studies offer a road map through which EPA has the opportunity to improve regulation of chemicals in the short term, with existing authorities.

Featured Speakers

Dr. Bhavna Shamasunder is Associate Professor and Chair, Urban and Environmental Policy, Occidental College. Dr. Shamasunder teaches and conducts research at the intersection of environmental health and justice with a focus on inequalities in chemical exposures faced by low-income communities and communities of color who live and work in urban and/or industrial environments.

Dr. Astrid Williams is Manager for the Black Women for Wellness Environmental Justice program.  Dr. Williams has a wide range of experience in chronic disease, maternal and reproductive health. She is particularly passionate about women’s health issues. A significant portion of her work involves developing public policies that address community-level health and social issues using evidence-based practices. Throughout her career as an administrator and leader in public health, Dr. Williams has coordinated numerous programs. She holds a Doctorate of Public Health and Master of Public Health in Health Promotion and Education from Loma Linda University School of Public Health. 

Dr. Micaela E. Martinez is Director of Environmental Health at WE ACT for Environmental Justice where she leads the Beauty Inside Out campaign. An ecologist and justice advocate, she earned her PhD in Ecology and Evolution and previously served as Assistant Professor at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and Emory University. Her research focuses on infectious disease ecology, social justice, climate change, maternal and infant health, and environmental impacts on health.

Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz is a supervising senior attorney in the Toxic Exposure & Health Program at Earthjustice, based out of Earthjustice’s Northeast office in New York. His work focuses largely on the regulation of toxic chemicals and pesticides under federal and state law, including the Toxic Substances Control Act and Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. Earthjustice’s Toxic Exposure & Health Program uses the power of the law to ensure that all people have safe workplaces, neighborhoods, and schools; have access to safe drinking water and food; and live in homes that are free of hazardous chemicals. The program works to ensure that regulators acknowledge and redress the inequitable burdens imposed on Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) through the manufacturing, use, and disposal of toxic chemicals.