‘Ubiquitous’ chemicals linked to higher incidence of premature birth, study says

‘Ubiquitous’ chemicals linked to higher incidence of premature birth, study says


Premature births are on the rise, but experts aren’t sure why. Now, researchers have found that synthetic chemicals called phthalates used in food packaging and personal care products could be the culprit, according to a new study.

Main points of the story

New research builds on growing evidence that phthalates cause harm

Experts say alternatives to phthalates in industry are not the answer

Premature babies can be more susceptible to developing certain diseases as adults

Previous research has shown that phthalates — known as “ubiquitous chemicals” because they are so common — are hormonal disruptors that can affect how the life-giving placenta works. This organ is the source of oxygen and nutrients for the fetus developing in the womb.

Phthalates can also contribute to inflammation that can further disrupt the placenta and set the tone for early labor. said lead author Dr. Leonardo Trasandi, director Environmental Pediatrics at NYU Langone Health.

Studies show that the greatest association with premature birth is due to phthalates found in food packaging, called phthalates Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP, Trasande said. “In our new study, we found that DEHP and three similar chemicals could be responsible for 5% to 10% of all premature births in 2018. This may be one reason for the rise in premature births.”

the 5% to 10% That translated into nearly 57,000 premature births in the United States during 2018, at a cost to society of about $4 billion that year alone, according to the study published Tuesday in the journal Lancet Planetary Health.

“This paper focused on the relationship between individual phthalate exposure and premature birth. But that’s not how people are exposed to chemicals,” Alexa Friedman, a senior toxicologist at the Environmental Working Group, or EWG, said in an email.

“Every day, they are exposed to more than one phthalate from the products they use, so their risk of preterm birth may actually be greater,” said Friedman, who was not involved in the study.

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Phthalates are used in all types of food packaging, including the plastic wrap that keeps meat fresh and the linings of some milk and juice containers.

The American Chemistry Council, an industry trade association for US chemical companies, told CNN the report did not prove causation.

“Not all phthalates are alike, and it is not appropriate to group them as a class. The term ‘phthalates’ simply refers to a family of chemicals that are structurally similar, but functionally and toxicologically different from one another,” a spokesperson for the council’s high phthalates committee wrote in an email. .

Globally, approximately 8.4 million metric tons of phthalates and other plastics are consumed each year, according to the European Plastics Industry Association, an industry trade association.

Manufacturers add phthalates to consumer products to make plastic more flexible and harder to break, especially in polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, products, such as children’s toys.

Phthalates are also found in detergents. vinyl flooring, furniture and shower curtains; automotive plastic; Lubricants and adhesives; Rain and stain resistant products; Clothes and shoes. And dozens of personal care products including shampoo, soap, hair spray and nail polish, which make perfumes last longer.

Studies have linked phthalates to obesity in children, asthma, cardiovascular problems, cancer, and reproductive problems such as reproductive abnormalities, undescended testicles in male children, and lower sperm counts and testosterone levels in adult males.

“The Consumer Product Safety Commission no longer allows the use of eight different types of phthalates at levels above 0.1% in the manufacture of children’s toys and child care products,” Trasandi said. “However, not all eight items have been restricted in food packaging by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”

In response to government and consumer concerns, manufacturers may create new versions of chemicals that are no longer subject to any restrictions. Take DEHP, for example, which has been replaced by newer phthalates called di-isodecylphthalate (DiDP), di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP), and diisononyl phthalate (DiNP).

Are those safer than the original? That’s not what scientists say they usually find when they spend years and thousands of dollars testing newcomers.

“Why do we think that you can make a very slight change in the molecule you’re making and the body won’t react the same way?” asked toxicologist Linda Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, as well as the National Toxicology Program. She also did not participate in the newspaper.

“Phthalates should be regulated as a class (of chemicals). Many of us have been trying to get something done on this for years,” Birnbaum said in an email.

The new research used data from the National Institutes of Health’s Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes, or ECHO, study, which looks at the impact of early environmental influences on children’s health and development. At 69 sites across the country, pregnant mothers and their newborns are evaluated and provided blood, urine and other biological samples for analysis.

The team identified 5,006 pregnant mothers with urine samples that tested positive for different types of phthalates and compared those with the baby’s gestational age at birth, birth weight and birth length.

The data was also drawn from the 2017-2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a government program that assesses the health and nutritional status of Americans using a combination of interviews, physical examinations and laboratory analysis of biological samples.

After analyzing the information, Trasande and his colleagues were able to confirm previous research that showed a significant association between DEHP and shorter pregnancies and premature birth.

However, interestingly, the research team found that the three phthalates that manufacturers made to replace DEHP were actually more dangerous than DEHP when it came to premature birth.

“When we looked deeper into these alternatives, we found stronger effects for DiDP, DnOP, and DiNP,” Trasande said. “It would take a lower dose to create the same result of prematurity.”

Birth is considered premature if it occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy — full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks or more. Since vital organs and part of the nervous system may not be fully developed, premature birth may put the baby at risk. Babies born very premature are often admitted to hospital right away To help the infant breathe and address any problems with the heart, digestive system, brain, or inability to fight infections.

As they grow older, babies born prematurely may have vision, hearing and dental problems, as well as intellectual and developmental delays, according to the Mayo Clinic. Prematurity can contribute to cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and mental health disorders such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, and depression.

In adults, people born prematurely may also have high blood pressure, cholesterol, asthma, and other respiratory infections, and may develop type 1 and type 2 diabetes, heart disease, heart failure, or stroke.

All these medical expenses add up, allowing Trasandi and his colleagues to estimate the cost to the United States in medical care and lost economic productivity due to premature births to be “a staggering $3.8 billion,” said EWG’s Alexa Friedman.

“But the real cost is the impact on infant health,” Friedman said.

There are additional steps you can take to reduce exposure to phthalates and other chemicals found in food and food packaging products, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement on food additives and children’s health.

“One is to reduce our plastic footprint by using stainless steel and glass containers, when possible,” said Trasande, who was the lead author of the AAP statement.

He added: “Avoid placing foods or drinks in the microwave with plastic, including infant formula and human milk, and do not put plastic in the dishwasher, because the heat can cause chemicals to leach out.” “Look at the recycling symbol on the bottom of products to find the type of plastic, and avoid plastics with recycling symbol 3, which typically contain phthalates.”

CNN’s Jane Christensen contributed to this story.

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