For decades, phthalates have been added to various household items to soften plastics, making them more flexible and durable. These chemicals have become ubiquitous in our environment, and almost all people in the Western world carry traces of them in their bodies.
But what’s worrying is that exposure to phthalates has been linked to a variety of health problems, from childhood cancer risk to decreased fertility. The latest research, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, has uncovered a particularly alarming connection: exposure to phthalates may be the leading cause of one in ten premature births.
The study, which included more than 5,000 mothers, analyzed urine samples collected at different stages of pregnancy to measure levels of 20 different phthalate metabolites. Unlike previous research, this study examined a diverse group of mothers, allowing for a comprehensive evaluation of associations between phthalate exposure and birth outcomes.
The findings revealed that the most commonly used phthalate, DEHP (di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate), was significantly associated with an increased risk of preterm birth. Mothers with higher levels of DEHP in their urine were about 50% more likely to experience preterm birth compared to those with lower levels.
What’s even more worrying is that some chemicals recently introduced as alternatives to DEHP were found to be even more strongly linked to preterm birth. This suggests that switching from DEHP to these substitutes may be exacerbating the problem rather than solving it.
The study also emphasized the need for regulators to take action. He highlighted that while there are safer alternatives to phthalates, companies often opt for cheaper alternatives that can pose similar risks to public health.
“These results underscore the importance of regulating phthalates as a group, rather than addressing them individually,” the study is quoted as saying. “Otherwise, we may find ourselves in a cycle of replacing one harmful chemical with another.”
The implications of this research are significant, as they highlight the urgent need for stricter regulations on the use of phthalates in consumer products. By addressing the root cause of the problem and promoting safer alternatives, we can work to reduce the alarming rates of premature births and safeguard the health of future generations.