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06-09-2011 | Gynaecology | Article

Prenatal exposure to phthalates may impair mental and motor development


Free abstract

MedWire News: Prenatal exposure to phthalates - plasticizers used in a large variety of products including pills, adhesives, and personal-care products - may adversely affect mental and motor development and increase internalizing behaviour in young children, say researchers.

"Our results suggest that prenatal exposure to these phthalates adversely affects child mental, motor and behavioral development during the preschool years," said lead researcher Robin Whyatt, from Columbia University in New York, USA.

"The results add to a growing public health concern about the widespread use of phthalates in consumer products."

Whyatt and team collected urine samples from 319 women during their third trimester of pregnancy to evaluate levels of mono-n-butyl phthalate (MnBP), mono-benzyl phthalate (MBzP), mono-isobutyl phthalate (MiBP), and 4 di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate, and assess approximate exposure levels of the women.

The Psychomotor Development Index (PDI) and the Mental Development Index (MDI) of the children were measured at the age of 3 years using the Bayley Scales on Infant Development II. Behavior problems were assessed by maternal report using the Child Behavior Checklist.

Whyatt and colleagues found that child PDI scores decreased with increasing MnBP and MiBP exposure.

In addition, for each natural log increase in MiBP and MnBP in the mother's urine, the odds of motor delay in the child increased significantly, by 82% and 64%, respectively.

In girls, but not boys, MDI scores decreased by a significant 44% with each natural log increase in MnBP exposure.

Regarding behavior, each natural log increase in MnBP and MBzP exposure was associated with a 2.23- and 1.57-fold increased risk for having clinically withdrawn behavior at age 3 years.

The researchers say that these results are concerning, but should be interpreted with caution until investigated further.

"More work is needed to understand the biological effects of these commonplace substances," said Whyatt.

"We will continue to follow children in the current cohort to assess associations between prenatal as well as postnatal phthalate exposures and child mental, motor and behavioral development during the elementary school years," write the authors in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

By Helen Albert

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