Prenatal Exposure to Common Chemicals Increase Risk of Developmental Delays

Prenatal exposure to phthalates, a class of chemicals that are widely used in consumer products ranging from plastic toys to building materials to shampoo, may put children at increased risk of developmental problems, according to a new study.Recent studies in pre-school children have found that prenatal phthalate exposure may lead to mental, motor and behavioral problems.

One study followed 319 non-smoking, inner-city pregnant women and measured their exposure to phthalates through urine tests. The researchers followed up with developmental tests on the children three years later.

The results indicated that higher prenatal exposure to pthalates significantly increased the odds of motor delay and behavior problems, including anxiety, depression and withdrawal. Among girls, phthalates were associated with decreases in mental development.

The women in the highest exposure group had double, sometimes triple, the odds of having a child with developmental delays compared to the women in the lowest exposure group.

“The results add to a growing public health concern about the widespread use of phthalates in consumer products,” said Robin Whyatt, DrPH, study researcher.

While the researchers are still uncertain as to how pthalates affect the developing brain, they do know that the chemicals are endocrine disrupters, meaning that they affect the hormone system in the body. Prior research suggests pthalates affect thyroid function, as well as lower testosterone, which plays a critical role in brain development.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.