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Prenatal Exposure to Phthalates May Cause Lower IQs in Children

Pregnant women bellies
Don't be surprised if "phthalates-free" labels become more important than ever. A new study released by the Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York City has linked the harmful chemicals to a decrease in children's IQ, reports HealthDay News. The study was published yesterday in the science journal PLOS ONE.

The study centered on 328 mothers and children from low-income backgrounds in New York City. Researchers analyzed how the exposure to five types of phthalates during the third trimester of each woman's pregnancy affected her children's IQ at 7-years-old. Each woman's urine was measured for chemicals during pregnancy, and later on, each school-age child was given an IQ test.

Results showed that children whose mothers had the highest exposure to two phthalates (DnBP and DiBP) had IQs that were at least 7 points lower than children whose mothers had lower exposure to the chemicals. The three other phthalates (BBP, DEHP, and DEP) did not seem to have any significant affects on children's intellect.

Phthalates are chemicals that are commonly added to plastics as stabilizers. "Depending on the specific phthalate, they are used to make plastic flexible, as adhesive and as additives to cosmetics, air fresheners and cleaning products, as several 'hold' scents," says Pam Factor-Litvak, Ph.D., the study's author and an associate professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. According to the CPSC, paints and inks can contain phthalates. CBSNews adds that the two specific phthalates, DnBP and DiBP, can also be found in products like "vinyl upholstery, shower curtains, plastic food containers, raincoats, dryer sheets..."

Even though this study is not conclusive that pthalates are the definite cause of low intellectual development, the results add to the ongoing belief that exposure to phthalates can have toxic negative long-term affects. Other research studies have shown that phthalates can disrupt hormones, cause physical defects (cleft palates and skeletal malformations), increase asthma, and lead to insulin resistance, reports CBSNews.

Manufacturers are not obligated to include labels that point out their products contain phthalates, but Congress permanently bans three types of phthalates (BBP, DEHP, DBP) from being used in amounts greater than 0.1 percent in children's toys and children's products related to feeding, sleeping, sucking, and teething. Three other phthalates (DINP, DIDP, DnOP) are also banned from children's products on an interim basis. "While these regulatory actions were taken to protect young children, there have been no regulatory actions to protect the developing fetus in utero, which is often the time of greatest susceptibility," Dr. Factor-Litvak noted.

Avoiding all phthalates is impossible, but it is possible to reduce your exposure to them. Dr. Factor-Litvak suggests that food never be microwaved in plastic containers and that scented products (such as personal care and cleaning products) never be used. Also, "avoid use of plastics labeled as #3, #6 and #7 as these contain phthalates as well as BPA (bisphenol A), and store food in glass rather than plastic containers as much as possible," she adds.

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Baby products that don't contain phthalates:

 

Image: Group of pregnant bellies via Shutterstock