Chemical Exposure during Pregnancy Could Increase Childhood Asthma

A recent study conducted by Columbia University suggests a connection between prenatal exposure to household chemicals during pregnancy and increased risk for childhood asthma. The study showed that such exposure could increase childhood asthma risk by more than 70 percent in children between 5 and 11.

The study focused on butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP) and di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP). Phthalates are found in mostly everything we use, ranging from plastic food containers, vinyl flooring, synthetic fragrances and insect repellents.

Over the last decade, use of phthalates in children’s toys and cosmetics were banned due to their link to an increased risk for health problems. One of those problems is asthma.

Study Findings

According to The Telegraph, researchers monitored 300 pregnant women and their children in New York City. Samples were taken from the women during their third trimester and from children ages three, five and seven.

Asthma risk was compared in children between the ages of 5 and 11. Nearly a third of the children developed and were diagnosed with asthma, while another 60 children had a history of wheezing and other asthma-like symptoms with no asthma diagnosis.

In the latter group, researchers also found a link between DnBP and prenatal exposure and the symptoms. All except one of the urinary samples from the mothers and children contained metabolites for phthalates. Researchers could not determine what factors contributed to the greater exposures.

More “Phthalate-Free” Products On the Horizon

Researchers believe more should be done to educate pregnant women about the risks of exposure to common household products they use. Fortunately, according to a recent article from The Guardian, many consumers have taken heed and have demanded that companies remove phthalates from products. Companies appear to be listening. Many fragrance houses offer phthalate-free products and many are looking into developing safer, phthalate-free products.

One well-known company who recently decided to go in a phthalate-free direction is Johnson & Johnson. In response to bad press over toxins in their baby shampoo, the company removed phthalates from all of its baby products worldwide. In 2006, the company also stopped using the phthalate DEP in new adult products, with a goal of removing DEP from all adult products by end of 2015.

Removing phthalates from plastic may be close to impossible. With no government regulation requiring it, making plastic phthalate-free would be a very difficult task. Researchers are hopeful that eventually we will see more “phthalate-free” labels on more and more products and household goods.

What You Can Do

Avoiding phthalates is not easy because they are not always labeled, and they are unregulated in adult products. What you can do is switch to glass containers for microwaving and storing food. Avoid microwaving food in plastic wrapping if possible, and avoid scented products as much as you can. If you buy food packaged in a plastic container, put it in a glass container as soon as possible.

By Ramie A Tritt, MD, President, Atlanta ENT

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