Exposure to phthalates may increase risk of preterm birth


A recent study found that women exposed to phthalates, chemical compounds commonly found in personal-care products, solvents, detergents, and food packaging, were more likely to have preterm births.

The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, was led by Barret Welch, PhD, MPH, assistant professor at the School of Public Health at University of Nevada, Reno. For the study, Welch and a team of researchers sought to understand how exposure to phthalates effected rates of preterm birth.

The study involved data on the timing of delivery and prenatal urinary phthalate metabolites of 6,045 mothers in the United States, who delivered their babies between 1983 and 2018. To determine their exposure to phthalates, researchers analyzed the concentration of phthalate metabolites in their urine. Using statistical models, researchers studied the association between phthalates and preterm birth.

The study’s results showed that phthalates metabolites were found in 96 percent of urine samples and that nine percent of the participants delivered preterm births. According to the study, higher concentrations of phthalates in a woman’s urine was associated with slightly higher odds of a preterm birth. Exposure to four of the 11 phthalates observed were associated with a significantly higher risk of preterm birth. The most common phthalates detected in urine were those found in personal-care products.

“This study provides compelling evidence that everyday chemicals in our environment are part of the problem,” said one of the study’s authors, Emily Barrett, PhD, an associate professor at Rutgers School of Public Health and a member of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute.

Using computational models to stimulate hypothetical interventions to reduce phthalate exposure, researchers estimated that decreasing phthalate exposure by 50 percent could reduce preterm births by 1.1 percent.

“Our data demonstrate that if we could reduce our exposures to phthalates, we could make considerable progress towards reducing our unacceptably high rates of preterm birth,” said Barrett.

According to the study, eating organic home-cooked meals, avoiding food that comes in plastic containers, and opting for phthalate-free household products are ways to reduce chemical exposure.