In Maine, for the First Time: Researcher Who Uncovered Links between Toxic Chemical Exposure and Dining Out, Eating Fast Food

Environmental Health Strategy Center
News Releases

SOUTH PORTLAND, November 15, 2018—The renowned public health researcher whose groundbreaking study of toxic chemicals in food made national headlines this year is coming to Maine, for the first time, to speak about her leading-edge research and its implications for children, pregnant women, and health fairness and justice.

Ami Zota, ScD, MS, of George Washington University, will give the keynote address at the Celebration for Our Healthy Future, an annual event benefitting the Portland-based public health organization Environmental Health Strategy Center. The event will be the evening of Thursday, November 29 at Congregation Bet Ha’am in South Portland. Tickets are $25 for adults, and $10 for students and elected officials, and can be reserved by calling (207) 699-5789 or at

In March, Dr. Zota unveiled research that was reported nationwide, finding that dining out may boost levels of toxic chemicals in the body. Specifically, it showed that Americans who eat more food away from home may be exposed to higher levels of hormone-disrupting toxic chemical phthalates (THAL-eights).

Phthalate exposure is linked to reproductive harm and infertility, learning disabilities and behavioral problems in children, and hormone disruption, among other harmful health effects. Low-income communities and communities of color are exposed to higher levels of these dangerous chemicals.

A strong advocate for using science as a way to promote environmental health fairness and justice for all Americans, Dr. Zota is continuing to highlight the impacts of phthalate exposure through her emerging work published in the journal Fertility and Sterility on Thursday, November 15. Dr. Zota’s article “Phthalates Exposure and Uterine Fibroid Burden among Women Undergoing Surgical Treatment for Fibroids: A Preliminary Study” shows the results of a pilot study that found links between phthalate exposure and fibroids, uterine tumors that can cause heavy bleeding, pain, infertility, and other serious reproductive problems, and disproportionately affect African-American women.

Dr. Zota’s work is related to a national campaign that Environmental Health Strategy Center leads to get toxic chemicals out of food. This campaign launched in 2017 challenges major food manufacturers to eliminate phthalates from all their products—including one that has received viral media attention: boxed macaroni and cheese. 

Phthalates are industrial chemicals commonly used in food processing and packaging, where they can leach into food. They’re also found in many consumer products, including popular cosmetics marketed to women. Dr. Zota’s recent research found that:

  • People who reported consuming more restaurant, fast food and cafeteria meals had phthalate levels that were nearly 35 percent higher than people who reported eating food mostly purchased at the grocery store.
  • People who reported consuming more fast food in a national survey were exposed to higher levels of phthalates. People who ate the most fast food had phthalate levels that were as much as 40 percent higher.
  • Women of color have higher levels of toxic chemicals in their bodies compared to white women, and beauty products may be an overlooked source of exposure.


  • National coverage of Dr. Zota’s research that discovered dining out may mean higher exposure to phthalates: CNN, The Guardian, San Francisco Chronicle
  • Coverage of Dr. Zota’s research that found higher levels of phthalates in people who ate more fast food: CNN, Reuters, CBS News
  • Coverage of Dr. Zota’s work highlighting environmental injustice in beauty products: The Independent, Popular Science
  • Press release from George Washington University about Dr. Zota’s pilot study on uterine fibroid tumors and phthalates exposure.
  • Listen to Dr. Zota discuss her recent study on dining out and phthalates exposure.
  • Watch Dr. Zota talk about environmental justice when it comes to phthalates in feminine care products.

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The ​Environmental​ Health Strategy Center works for a world where all people are healthy and thriving in a fair and healthy economy. We protect public health in Maine and nationally by fighting for​ ​safe food and drinking water, toxic-free products, and good green manufacturing jobs.