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New research shows maldevelopment of baby boys’ genitals linked to DEHP exposure

New research confirms and consolidates the links already found between the exposure of pregnant women to diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and the maldevelopment of baby boys’ genitalia.

The findings show that even at low levels, the boys environmental exposure during their mother’s pregnancy to DEHP can adversely affect male genital development, with potential negative consequences for their later reproductive health.

Specifically, the study found that male children of mothers who were exposed to the chemicals that DEHP breaks down into in the mother’s body, known as metabolites during the first trimester of pregnancy had significantly shorter anogenital distance (AGD) at birth. AGD, usually 50 to 100 percent longer in males than females, is an indicator of reproductive health.

Multiple animal studies have already shown that prenatal phthalate exposure is associated with decreased AGD. Previous human studies however were less conclusive because of conflicting results, which may have derived from the small numbers of people studied and the imprecise timing of the exposure or the outcomes.

This study is a confirmation and consolidation of earlier findings because is the largest study to date examining the link between phthalates and AGD, with 753 infants included in the analysis. Because most pregnant women are exposed to DEHP, these results have significant public policy implications. The findings are also particularly timely as the EU Commission is currently deciding whether to authorise continued, widespread, use of DEHP in PVC plastic, despite the existence of safer alternatives. Use of DEHP is PVC plastic is a source of exposure for the public.

Lisette van Vliet, HEAL’s Senior Advisor for Chemicals & Chronic Disease Prevention, said:

’’This new research confirms what earlier human and animal studies pointed to – that women’s exposure to DEHP in early pregnancy could be harming their sons’ reproductive health. It shows that the EU Commission is facing an important decision on the authorisation of DEHP in PVC plastics – will we start to reverse pregnant womens’ exposure to this harmful chemical and the roulette we are playing with baby boys’ health? Or, despite the safer alternatives already available, will we indulge certain companies’ attempt to evade modernisation and their duty to use chemicals that are safe for the public and the environment?’’

Useful resources

- New research: ’First trimester phthalate exposure and anogenital distance in newborns
- Press release for the research via Newswire: Exposure to Low Levels of Common Chemical Shown to Possibly Affect Reproductive Health of Male Newborns
- Information on new research via CHEM Trust
- CHEM Trust blog: Replacing chemicals with safer alternatives – or protecting dirty industry? (updated) by Michael Warhurst

Originally posted on 19 February 2015

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