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, with nearly every person in the Western world carrying traces of them in their bodies.
But what’s concerning is that exposure to phthalates has been linked to a range of health issues, 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 primary cause of one in every ten preterm births.
The study, which included over 5,000 mothers, analysed 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 assessment of the 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 concerning is that some chemicals recently introduced as alternatives to DEHP were found to be even more strongly linked to preterm birth. This suggests that the shift away 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 stressed that while safer alternatives to phthalates exist, companies often opt for cheaper alternatives that may pose similar risks to public health.
“These results underscore the importance of regulating phthalates as a group, rather than addressing them individually,” quoted from the study. “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 strive to reduce the alarming rates of preterm births and safeguard the health of future generations.