This paper reviews the literature on the properties and occurrence of phthalic acid esters (phthalates) in various components of the environment. It also addresses the issue of the presence of this group’s most commonly-occurring substance – di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) – in Polish surface waters and their bottom sediments. Phthalates are ingredients of many such everyday objects as plastics, cosmetics, paints, and varnishes. They exhibit a high level of durability and thermal and chemical resistance, and this stability ensures the regular detection of phthalic acid esters in the environment. Unfortunately, these are also compounds capable of affecting human health adversely, impacting on the endocrine system, and also proving carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic. Phthalates in general, and DEHP in particular, tend to accumulate on solid particles, as evidenced by higher contents in bottom sediments than in the aqueous phase. In Poland, contents of DEHP in bottom sediments even reach 7,100 mu g/kg DW while – at 3.22 mu g/L – the content noted in some surface waters may be 2.5 times the permitted level. In that context, a further aim of this paper has been to analyze possible sources of contamination of surface waters with this substance, in a region where cases of non-compliant exceedance were to be noted.