New study suggests phthalate exposure can increase risk of pre-term birth
The damaging effects of certain phthalates have been documented over many years, and it is well known that young children and pregnant women are particularly at risk of health issues associated with exposure to phthalates. A new US study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association throws further weight behind the growing body of evidence showing just how harmful some of these chemicals are, suggesting a link between exposure to phthalates during pregnancy, and preterm births.
Phthalates are a group of chemicals that are commonly used in plastics to increase flexibility and transparency, they can also be found in detergents, solvents, shampoos, and soaps. In Western Europe alone about one million tons of phthalates are produced each year. Certain phthalates are classified as toxic for reproduction or as endocrine disruptors, meaning that they can disrupt our sensitive hormone system. This may just be the tip of the iceberg as several other health concerns have also been linked to phthalates. One concern is their impact on those more vulnerable in our society, such as young children and pregnant women.
The researchers analysed 16 studies involving 6045 pregnant individuals and found phthalate metabolites (which suggest exposure to phthalates) in the urine of more than 96% of participants. The results of this study suggest that exposure to phthalates during pregnancy increases the odds of preterm birth by up to 16%. Pre-term delivery can be dangerous for both the baby and mother, so finding and reducing risk factors that increase the chance of preterm birth is hugely important.
Steps are underway to address these toxic chemicals. In the EU, some phthalates restricted in certain products. These restrictions, however, do not go far enough. CHEM Trust has highlighted the issues with phthalates for years and we are especially concerned with their contribution to the chemical mixture effect. Find out more about this in our report ‘Chemical Cocktails: The neglected threat of toxic mixtures and how to fix it’.
How can you reduce your risk?
You can take simple steps to help lessen your risk of exposure to phthalates. These include using fewer cosmetics and toiletries, reducing your consumption of overly processed and packaged foods, and dusting regularly at home.
However, until policy makers take the necessary steps to restrict these chemicals in consumer products, our health and the environment will continue to be at risk. Find out more about CHEM Trust’s work to influence policy makers here