Phthalates May Be Linked To Premature Births

A new study of pregnant women has found that some <"">phthalates may contribute to this country’s ongoing increase in premature births.

Phthalates are chemicals that enable flexibility in plastics and vinyls, for instance pacifiers and rubber ducks, but which are known in laboratory testing to cause reproductive disturbances such as decreased sperm count, infertility, and reproductive tract malformations, according to a prior WebMD report. Ubiquitous in a wide array of consumer products and industry, phthalates are also found in cosmetics, personal care products, pharmaceuticals and medical devices, food packaging, and cleaning and building materials, noted the National Academy of Sciences in a report it recently published on the issue, said WebMD.

Now, University of Michigan School of Public Health (SPH) researchers have discovered that women who deliver prematurely test with an average of up to three times the phthalate level in their urine as compared to women who carry full term, said Science Daily. Science Daily reported that professors John Meeker, Rita Loch-Caruso, and Howard Hu of the SPH Department of Environmental Health Sciences and collaborators from the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reviewed information from a larger study that was led by Hu and which followed a group of 60 Mexican women recruited during pre-natal visits at one of four Mexico City clinics of the Mexican Institute of Social Security.

Half the women carried to term (control group) and half delivered prematurely, which in the case of this study was defined as less than 37 weeks gestation, reported Science Daily. The team reviewed urine samples collected during the third trimester, comparing those to the control group and found, said Science Daily, “significantly higher phthalate metabolite levels” in the women who gave birth prematurely.

According to Meeker, premature births—which make up about one-third of all U.S. infant deaths—present critical risks for a variety of health issues in childhood that can follow into adulthood. Premature births are the leading cause of neonatal death, noted Meeker. Science Daily reported that premature births have increased by over 30 percent since 1981 and 18 percent since 1990, with such births comprising 12.8 percent of all live births in 2004. Being born premature is known to impact blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, and low IQ, to name some, said Science Daily.

“We looked at these commonly used compounds found in consumer products based on the growing amount of animal toxicity data and since national human data show that a large proportion of the population are unknowingly exposed,” Meeker said, quoted Science Daily. “One of the problems for consumers is that you don’t know exactly which products contain phthalates because the products do not have to be labeled accordingly,” Meeker explained.

The recent Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) effect focuses on lead and phthalates in children’s toys and products and states such products cannot contain more than 0.1 percent of six different types of phthalates. Phthalate limits apply to toys meant for children age 12 and under—except bicycles, playground equipment, musical instruments, and sporting goods—and for child care products for children age three and under that would be used for sleeping, feeding, sucking, or teething, reported WebMD previously.

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