New phthalates health study to be treated with caution - EPCI

16 November 2009 17:20  [Source: ICIS news]

LONDON (ICIS news)--A study which found that young boys exposed to high doses of certain phthalates, common chemicals present in PVC, would show less male-typical behaviour should be treated with extreme caution, an industry body said on Monday.

The research, carried out at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) in New York, found that two phthalates - di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), used to make PVC soft - and dibutyl phthalate (DBP), used as a plasticiser in glues and textiles, could make boys less likely to want to engage in rougher games if exposed to high levels in the womb.

“I don't think anyone should jump to conclusions without some much more sophisticated research being carried out," said Tim Edgar, an advisor at the The European Council for Plasticisers and Intermediates (EPCI).

The URMC research team, led by Dr Shanna Swan, had previously shown that phthalate exposure during pregnancy could affect the development of genitals in baby boys. The new research found that certain phthalates could impact the developing brain by knocking out the action of the male hormone testosterone.

"Dr Swan has chosen a very simplistic approach and has used the same relatively small sample of children she used in previous non-replicated and non verified studies purporting to show different effects," Edgar added.

Phthalates have been banned in toys and childcare items in the EU for some years but have been still widely used in many different household items.

Swan and her team tested urine samples from mothers in the 28th week of pregnancy for traces of phthalates and then tested the same women, who gave birth to 74 boys and 71 girls, when their children were aged  3.5 to 6.5 and asked about the toys that their youngsters had played with.

The findings was published in the International Journal of Andrology.

"This study shows once more that Dr Swan uses unproven methods to compile questionable data to reach conclusions that are consistent with her well-publicised opinion, which is not based on the weight of the scientific evidence surrounding the safety of phthalates. Dr Swan's recognition that the study results are 'not straightforward' is an understatement,” said Steve Risotto, senior director, phthalate esters at the American Chemistry Council.

"It appears that the researchers selectively excluded data, eliminating certain subjects from the analysis, in order to strengthen their conclusion. Even the phraseology of the paper is more sensationalistic than scientific." 

Chemicals campaign group CHEM Trust, said that it was concerned with the results.

"We now know that phthalates, to which we are all constantly exposed, are extremely worrying from a health perspective, leading to disruption of male reproduction health and, it appears, male behaviour too, said Elizabeth Salter-Green, director of the CHEM Trust.

"This feminising capacity of phthalates makes them true 'gender benders," she added.

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By: Franco Capaldo
+44 (0)20 8652 3214



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