News Brief

Phthalates in the Womb Linked to Asthma-Prone Kids

A longitudinal study suggests childhood asthma can be traced to the mother’s exposure to plasticizers during pregnancy.

Children exposed to higher levels of phthalates while in the womb were up to 78% more likely to develop asthma, a study has found.

Photo: Tradimus. License: CC BY-SA 3.0
Even before expectant mothers find themselves being told to “take deep breaths” to get through labor pains, plasticizers present in their blood could cause their baby to grow up gasping for air. Childhood asthma rates, according to a new study, are strongly correlated with prenatal exposure to two types of phthalates—BBzP, used to soften plastics such as vinyl floor tile, and DnBP, used in food packaging and some cosmetics.

A study of 300 inner-city children from New York, recently published in Environmental Health Perspectives, found the risk of asthma was up to 78% higher for children whose mothers were in the top third of the study sample for the amount of phthalates in their blood. Previous studies have linked phthalates to the development of asthma (see Report Warns of Asthma-Causing Chemicals in Building Products), but this is the first suggesting harmful exposure occurs this early.

Tellingly, 94 children in the study sample were diagnosed with asthma between 5 and 11 years of age—a rate three times higher than the national average. The expectant mothers chosen for the study, however, might have had a combination of other risk factors from residing in inner-city New York (where there might be more pollutants like vehicle exhaust, for example), so the “results may well not be able to generalize to other populations,” according to the study.

But the strong association still “raises new concerns” about “relatively ubiquitous environmental exposures” according to the report, especially because the phthalate levels measured in the study participants are comparable to those found in adults throughout the United States. Although levels of BBzP and DnBp have reportedly been dropping since the mothers were tested between 1998 and 2006, exposures to substitutes have increased (see Phthalate Exposure Persists Despite Regulations).

Published November 3, 2014

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