New study warns of chemicals’ potential harm
More research needed on phthalates
Friday, March 28, 2008
Short stuff: Health roundup
Some baby products, including lotions, powders, sippy cups and wipes, may expose babies to chemicals tied to potential reproductive problems later in life, according to a new study.
The key, though, is that little word "may."
Phthalates are found in many ordinary products used by adults, too, and are used in fragrance production and in making plastic products flexible.
Animal studies have indicated a possible connection between the chemicals and reproductive birth defects, as well as reproductive problems in boys and early puberty in girls.
This newest study, published in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics, tested for various phthalates in urine from the diapers of 163 babies ages 2 months to 28 months old.
The youngest babies’ samples contained the highest levels of multiple phthalates and all of the babies’ samples contained at least one type of the chemical, the study showed.
"These children had phthalates in their urine, but we don’t necessarily know where those phthalates came from," says Dr. Laura Schwab, a Chicago pediatrician and mother to 6-month-old Ryan. "We have to be careful with judgments and conclusions about phthalates."
Schwab warns that though preliminary evidence suggests phthalates may cause harm, the conclusive data does not yet exist.
"The research is not yet saying they are bad, just that they’re there and that maybe they’re dangerous," she says. "More studies are needed to get more specific details."
Some countries require companies to include phthalates on the list of products’ ingredients, but the U.S. does not.
While some makers of baby products are offering "phthalate-free" alternatives, these can be pricey. Since phthalates have not been deemed dangerous enough to warrant restrictions, Schwab says she’s not ready to definitely tell her patients to change what they’re using.
"If you know that something has phthalates in it and there’s an alternative product that you can afford, I’d say use it," she says.
The study did suggest that phthalates can be absorbed through the skin, so Schwab suggests considering how necessary certain products might be.
"Minimizing product use might prove beneficial overall."
Maayan S. Heller is a freelance writer living in Chicago who covers issues in health, women’s health and fitness.