Americans are being exposed to significantly lower levels of some phthalates that were banned from children’s articles in 2008, but exposures to other forms of these chemicals are rising steeply, according to a study led by researchers at UC San Francisco.
Phthalate exposures to adult men have been linked to DNA damage in sperm and lower sperm quality, while exposures to pregnant women have been linked to alterations in the genital development of their male children, as well as cognitive and behavioral problems in boys and girls.
The paper, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, is the first to examine how phthalate exposures have changed over time in a large, representative sample of the U.S. population. It delineates trends in a decade’s worth of data—from 2001 to 2010—in exposure to eight phthalates among 11,000 people who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We were excited to see that exposure to some of the phthalates that are of public health concern actually went down,” said Ami Zota, ScD, MS, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, who did the research when she was a postdoctoral fellow at UCSF’s Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment. “Unfortunately, our data also suggest that these are being replaced by other phthalates with potential adverse health effects.”