Studies have examined the effects of phthalates — an industrial chemical commonly found in plastics worldwide — on the human body. With an emphasis on reproductive health and the health of young children, the studies offer shocking conclusions. There were consistent indications that phthalates may increase the risk of developing both allergies and asthma in children, and even cause neurological, reproductive, metabolic and social problems.
Known as “endocrine disrupters,” phthalates are found in a number of household products along with other dangerous chemicals, but you would never know as labels rarely tell the truth. Some people know that these synthetic chemicals are found in soft plastics and carpets, but their presence doesn’t end there. Hiding in personal care products such as nail polish, cologne, shampoos, perfumes and hair gels, these toxic compounds behave as hormones in the body, potentially causing both reproductive and neurological damage.
The Environmental Protection Agency has placed phthalates on a list with other threatening chemicals that could cause potential risk to both the environment and human health. Studies have linked phthalates as being a major risk to pregnant women, infants and young children.
Damaging Impact of Exposure in the Womb and Beyond
Children become exposed to phthalates in the womb. Studies that have tested the chemical level in the third trimester women have found that infants, toddlers and older children suffer from a variety of health implications stemming possibly from being exposed to the chemical. Columbia University conducted a study in 2011 finding that 3-year old girls who had been exposed to high levels of damaging chemicals while in the womb were more likely to have motor delays. Social withdrawal, and the development of asthma and allergies along with obesity were also linked to high level of phthalates during pregnancy.
A similar study conducted by an epidemiologist at the University of Rochester Medical School reported that baby boys who were exposed to high levels of phthalates in the womb showed a reduction of masculine characteristics. Dr. Howard Snyder is a pediatric urologist at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia who feels that the great number of newborn boys with deformed sex organs he sees may be due to phthalate exposure.
The problems with exposure, however, do not stop in the womb, prior to a ban on children’s toys containing phthalates in 2009, many soft plastic baby items, books and even teething rings were chalk full of phthalates. This ban in the United States followed similar bans that were put in place in 2006, in the European Union.
However, phthalates still remain on the list of health hazards, despite any ban. Children and adults in the Untied States are still exposed to a wide variety of toxic phthalates that are found in food packaging, tubing, medical devices, soap, lotions and shampoo and concerned health officials continue to lobby for change.