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2012-10-03

Phthalates Linked to Asthma in Children

Phthalates are a class of compounds that are known to have an assortment of negative health consequences. Unfortunately, they are found everywhere, with the most frequent sources of exposure coming from fragrances (phthalates are used to make scents "stick" to you, so that your perfume doesn't just evaporate quickly) and continuous off-gassing from PVC (considered the most dangerous plastic, and many have PVC shower curtains, fabrics, flooring, piping, etc.). More recently, the EU banned PVC in children's toys in 2005, and California followed suit in 2009.

Here's a link to an educational video to help kids (and parents) understand the dangers of PVC and how to avoid it.

Sam Suds and the Case of PVC, the Poison Plastic

Anyway, getting back to phthalates, a study by scientists at the University of Columbia links childhood asthma to phthalates that are found in personal care products and plastic packaging.

The authors of this new study focused on exposure to 2 phthalates in particular: diethyl phthalate (DEP) and butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP). While DEP is widely used in a range of personal care and cosmetics products, particularly nail varnishes and fragrances, BBzP is far less commonly used in such formulations.

This study found children aged between 5 - 9 that were exposed to these two chemicals had an elevated risk of asthma-related airway inflammation. The authors also highlight the fact that ALL children in the study had detectable levels of phthalates in their urine (although there was considerable variation in the amounts that were detected).

The evidence revealed that the children with the high levels of both phthalates were linked with higher levels in nitric oxide in tested breath inhalations. Nitric oxide is a biological marker of airway inflammation and often a precursor to asthma.
Although phthalates are absorbed by ingestion and transdermally through the skin, the researchers believed inhalation was a particularly important route of exposure for the two phthalates considered in this study. 

In recent years, there have been a number of other studies that have also linked phthalates to a number of other health disorders including a higher level of type-2 diabetes, obesity and even disruptive behaviour in children.

Of course, the chemical industry has been quick to defend the use of phthalates in cosmetics and personal care products in North America, with the Personal Care Products Council consistently underlining the fact that products containing phthalates are safe. How's THAT for guff?!

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Source: Children's Urinary Phthalate Metabolites and Fractional Exhaled Nitric Oxide in an Urban Cohort

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