RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—A new study published in the March issue of Environmental Health Perspectives finds that phthalates (pronounced “THA-lates”), chemicals used to make plastics flexible and artificial fragrances linger, could have an effect on brain function in children who have been exposed to them. These phthalate plasticizers, are being eliminated from children's products in this country due to health concerns. But they're still present in many products children are exposed to on a daily basis, including countless home, medical, and personal-care products, as well as cleaning supplies used in schools.
THE DETAILS: The study authors recruited 667 third- and fourth-grade students from nine schools across South Korea, and gave both the students and their mothers IQ tests. The students also supplied urine samples so researchers could determine the level of phthalates in their bodies. Result: A higher phthalate level was strongly associated with a lower IQ test result. The researchers noted that maternal IQ level had a significant impact on a child's IQ, but after controlling for this variable, they found that phthalates still played a role. Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), a common form of phthalate, was found to be one of the main culprits in terms of its probable effect on brain function. DEHP is most commonly used in synthetic fragrances and soft vinyl products.
WHAT IT MEANS: It isn't fully understood how phthalates affect a child's neural development, according to the study authors, but it may have to do with how the body processes fat, which impacts brain health, or with the way phthalates interact with brain cells. Aside from those concerns, there are other reasons that the Consumer Product Safety Commission recently banned phthalates in products marketed to children. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, chemicals that interfere with reproductive development, and an ongoing study in New York City is finding that higher phthalate levels seems to lead to early puberty in girls, which in turn predisposes them to obesity. A recent study in mice also found that phthalates may lower immune function.
Read on for ways to get phthalates out of your home and your child's school.