Plastic and cosmetic chemicals linked to preterm birth risk

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Study uncovers link between plastic and cosmetic chemicals and preterm births.

NEW YORK, Feb 7: Premature births are increasingly prevalent, and researchers are investigating potential causes behind this concerning trend. A recent study suggests that synthetic chemicals known as phthalates, commonly found in clear food packaging and personal care products, could be contributing to this rise.

Phthalates, often referred to as “everywhere chemicals” due to their widespread use, have been previously identified as hormone disruptors capable of affecting the function of the placenta. The placenta plays a vital role in providing oxygen and nutrients to a developing fetus in the womb.

Lead author Dr. Leonardo Trasande, director of environmental pediatrics at NYU Langone Health, explains, “Phthalates can also contribute to inflammation that can disrupt the placenta even more and set the steps of preterm labor in motion.”

The study suggests that a specific phthalate commonly found in food packaging, Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), could be particularly problematic. According to Trasande, DEHP and three similar chemicals may have been responsible for 5% to 10% of all preterm births in the United States in 2018.

This finding translates to nearly 57,000 preterm births in the US in 2018, with associated societal costs reaching nearly $4 billion. The study, published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health, underscores the potential impact of phthalates on public health.

While the American Chemistry Council cautions against broad categorization of phthalates and emphasizes distinctions between various chemicals, concerns remain regarding their pervasive presence in consumer products. Phthalates are commonly added to plastics to enhance flexibility and durability, with applications ranging from children’s toys to personal care items.

Notably, replacements for restricted phthalates may pose similar risks, as evidenced by the study’s findings. Trasande warns that these substitutes, such as di-isodecylphthalate (DiDP) and di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP), could be even more hazardous than DEHP in terms of preterm birth risk.

Preterm birth, defined as delivery before 37 weeks of gestation, can pose significant health risks to infants, including developmental delays and chronic health conditions. The economic burden associated with preterm births further underscores the urgency of addressing potential contributors such as phthalates.

Experts recommend minimizing exposure to phthalates by opting for alternative storage materials such as stainless steel or glass containers. Additionally, avoiding microwaving food in plastic and scrutinizing product labels for recycling codes associated with phthalates can help reduce exposure risks.

As research continues to explore the impact of phthalates on human health, efforts to mitigate exposure and regulate these chemicals remain critical to safeguarding maternal and infant well-being.

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