A new study suggests that phthalates, chemicals used to make plastic products flexible, may delay child development, The Washington Post reports.
Sometimes called plasticizers, phthalates are used in thousands of products, from shower curtains and garden hoses to water bottles and hairspray. Although scientists suspect that they cause health problems, little data has confirmed their effect on people.
A small study conducted by researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives measured levels of four kinds of phthalates in the urine of 319 non-smoking pregnant women. When the children born of those pregnancies were three years old, the researchers assessed their mental, motor and behavioral development.
The study found that phthalates exposure during pregnancy was associated with increased risk of motor delay, a condition that could potentially translate to problems with fine and gross motor skills later in life, according to the study. One of the phthalates was associated with "significant" decreases in mental development among girls; among boys and girls, three of the phthalates were associated with behavior problems such as anxiety and depression, "emotionally reactive behavior" and withdrawn behavior.
More studies are needed because it's unclear how exactly phthalates act on the body, researchers wrote. These findings "raise a public health concern," but "should be interpreted with caution," they said.