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Prenatal Exposure to Phthalates--Carl-Gustaf Bornehag, PhD

Air date: 
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

On today’s Best of Health, I talk with Swedish scientist Carl-Gustaf Bornehag, at Karlstad University, Sweden, about his research looking at the effects of exposure to plastics on the development on infants.

Specifically, we will be talking about phthalates: ph-th-al-at-es.

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastic and vinyl.

Phthalates are used in many consumer products, including:

  • Cosmetics and personal care products, including some baby lotions & creams
  • Plastic and vinyl toys, including chew toys and bathtub toys
  • Vinyl flooring
  • Shower curtains
  • Diaper-changing mats and leak-proof diaper covers
  • Food packaging and wraps, including plastic wrap, and
  • Detergents

Phthalates have not been allowed in the US manufacture of three specific infant products: pacifiers, soft rattles, and teething rings, since 1999. However, phthalates were continued to be allowed in US manufacture of children’s toys until April 25, 2018, when the upper level permitted was set to 0.1 % for toys made after that date. However, hundreds of thousands of products imported to the US continue to be made with high levels of phthalates.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a new policy statement in August 2018, in which they warned of food additives and the effects on children’s health. Some of these additives are, in fact, added intentionally to food, but many are incidental exposures to the containers food is sold in, stored in at home, or wrapped in, including all types of greaseproof paper and plastic food wrap.

The good news is, of all the plastics and chemicals that may permanently or temporarily affect children’s health and development, phthalates do not permanently stay in the body. We metabolize them, and these breakdown products, or metabolites, can be found and measured in our urine. The bad news is, in the developed world, everyone’s urine tests positive for these metabolites. When one reflects on how many things in the household contain phthalates, there is little wonder.