A paper published by Project TENDR (Targeting Environmental Neuro-Development Risks), a group of volunteer scientists, health professionals and child advocates working to study and reduce children’s exposure to neurotoxic chemicals and pollutants, calls for a ban on phthalate chemicals commonly found in personal care and home care products. (source) Recent studies have demonstrated a link between phthalate* chemicals and a variety of serious health conditions,** including adverse effects to babies’ brains when pregnant mothers are exposed to the chemical.***
“Once the baby’s developing brain is impacted by the [phthalate] chemical in utero, the damage has been done.”
-Dr. David Bellinger, professor of neurology and psychology, Boston Children’s Hospital
What are the authors asking for? According to the paper: “We strongly urge both federal and state agencies to move rapidly to eliminate phthalate use,” adding that “states should not wait for the federal government to act, as state action can galvanize federal regulation.”
“We have enough evidence right now to be concerned about the impact of these chemicals on a child’s risk of attention, learning and behavioral disorders.”
-Dr. Stephanie Engel, professor of epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health
The new call to action paper****, published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health, focuses specifically on the link between phthalate exposure and long-lasting neurodevelopmental harm in fetuses, infants and children…according to the paper authors, studies with the strongest associations have been found with hyperactivity, aggression, defiance, emotional reactivity, delinquent behaviors and other signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, after exposure to phthalates. The paper calls for the elimination of the entire class of phthalates from products that lead to the exposure of pregnant women, women of reproductive age, infants and children.
*Phthalates are easily unbound from plastics and released into the environment; most exposure is from diet (where they leach into food and drinks from packaging), but phthalates are also found in hundreds of home, auto and personal care items such as detergents, vinyl flooring, clothing, furniture and vinyl shower curtains, PVC plumbing and many building products, and items such as garden hoses and some children’s toys, automotive plastics, lubricating oils and adhesives, water- and stain-resistant fabrics and products, and personal care products including shampoo, soap, hair spray and nail polish, and home care products like air fresheners, dryer sheets and other commercial products containing “fragrances”. (Phthalates must be listed among the ingredients on product labels, unless they are added as a part of the scent. Under current US Food and Drug Administration regulations, phthalates can be simply labeled “fragrance,” even though they could be as much as 20% of the product, studies say.)
Phthalates cross the blood-placenta barrier and are associated with shortened gestational age, disrupted male reproductive development, and deficits in cognitive function and behavioral outcomes–including lowered IQ.
Phthalates have been shown to alter the levels of thyroid hormones, which are critical for brain development, especially the development of the cerebellum, which is in part accountable for coordination and fine-motor movements. Phthalates have also been shown to disrupt specialized neurons associated with the development of motor skills, including fine motor skills, which are known to develop earlier in girls than in boys. (source)
***Studies have also connected phthalates to childhood obesity, asthma, cardiovascular issues, cancer and reproductive problems such as genital malformations and undescended testes in baby boys and low sperm counts and testosterone levels in adult males.
****A petition submitted last year by the Environmental Defense Fund and other advocates called upon the FDA to consider the “cumulative effects” of the more than 10,000 chemicals allowed to be added to foods and food packaging. Some of those, like phthalates and another class of chemicals called PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances), are known hormone disruptors linked to developmental, cognitive and other health problems in babies and adults. The petition is supported by 11 groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, and the Center for Food Safety.
Journal Reference: S.M. Engel, et.al., Neurotoxicity of Ortho-Phthalates: Recommendations for Critical Policy Reforms to Protect Brain Development in Children, American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), Published Online: February 18, 2021: e1–e9. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2020.306014
Post: Kenji H.