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Phthalate Exposure Linked to Asthma Risk in Children

Sep 17, 2014 06:36 AM EDT

Exposure to a class of everyday chemicals called phthalates increases asthma risk in children, a new study has found.

The study, conducted by researchers at Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health, has found that prenatal exposure to two phthalates can affect asthma risk. Phthalates are used in plastic dishware, insect repellent, vinyl flooring and several other products. The "new car smell" is due to these chemicals.

According to researchers, children born to mothers who were exposed to high levels of chemicals such as butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP) and di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP) had a 72 percent and 78 percent increase in asthma risk between the ages of 5 and 11 years as compared to other children, according to a news release

"Everyone from parents to policymakers is concerned by the steep rise in the number of children who develop asthma. Our goal is to try and uncover causes of this epidemic so we can better protect young children from this debilitating condition," said Robin Whyatt, DrPH, professor of Environmental Health Sciences and co-deputy director of the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health at the Mailman School, lead author of the study.

The study was based on data from Center's longitudinal cohort study in New York City. The team looked at the levels of phthalates in urine samples of 300 pregnant women and their children. Samples were taken from mothers during the third trimester of their pregnancy and from children at ages 3, 5 and 7 years.

In the study group, a third of all children - 94 of them - were diagnosed with asthma, while another 60 had wheeze and other asthma-like symptoms. The team found a link between phthalate exposure and asthma symptoms in these children.

The study supports findings of a previous research conducted in the year 2012. That study was also based on data from the same cohort and scientists had found that exposure to DEP or BBzP was associated with asthma and eczema risk in children.

Other chemicals used in household products such as to bisphenol A (BPA) are also known to increase asthma risk. What's worse is that research has shown that mothers with high levels of BBzP during pregnancy also have above average levels of BPA. The studies show that endocrine disruptors such as BPA and phthalates interact to increase health complications.

Related research has found that exposure to phthalate can raise diabetes risk in women. Investigations conducted on rhesus monkeys have shown that BPA can lead to birth defect and even reduce reproductive lifespan.

The study is published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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