Researchers worry that the common plasticizers could be causing more problems than previously imagined.
Toxicology and public health researchers released a study last week showing a clear link between prenatal exposure to a harsh group of chemicals called phthalates (used in the manufacture of vinyl as well as in a wide range of cosmetics and personal care products) and childhood asthma. While previous animal and human studies have linked exposure to phthalates to a range of health problems including airway inflammation, altered male genitalia, attention and learning problems,
and premature births, the new research validates worries expressed by public health and environmental advocates that the harsh chemicals could be causing even more widespread harm. In the sample group of 300 expectant mothers and their kids in New York City, those children exposed in the womb to moderate levels of phthalates had a 72-78 percent higher chance of developing asthma than those with limited to no exposure. The researchers behind the study report that the findings “raise new concerns that the presence of relatively ubiquitous environmental exposures may have deleterious respiratory effects.” While phthalates are currently banned for use in children’s toys and certain child care items, they are still widespread in other applications, with traces showing up in processed food and even in some of the containers that store leftovers. Environmentalists would like to see the common chemicals phased out of production entirely. But alternatives have been hard to come by and expensive to produce, so phthalates are likely to be around for a while,
leaving it up to parents to educate themselves about how to best avoid exposure. A great place to start the search for healthier alternatives is Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database, which contains information and safety assessments on upwards of 69,000 personal care products.