Lead researchers from a University of Rochester study presented a disturbing study that found that chemicals in many common household plastics may be altering male hormones in the brains of baby boys . This represents more evidence directly linking chemicals in plastics to harmful effects in humans.
Published recently in the International Journal of Andrology, the report is a clear indication of the dangers of a plastic chemical additive, called phthalates. These additives are commonly added to vinyl flooring, PVC shower curtains and many other every-day products.
It is well-known that boys have different hormonal compositions than girls. These “male hormones” drive specific types of actions in young boys associated with “rough-and-tumble,” play-fighting behavior.
When these hormonal chemicals are altered, researchers have noted that boys begin to play more like little girls. This may be related to the fact that phthalates cause male hormones to behave more like the female hormone, estrogen, and therefore may reduce the male drive to “play rough.”
Dr. Shanna Swan is a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and environmental medicine, as well as director of the Center for Reproductive Epidemiology at the University of Rochester. She was also the lead scientist looking into phthalate composition in urine samples of pregnant mothers. This study took the incidence of phthalates in mothers, and compared them to behavioral play in their children.
It was found that the phthalates DEHP and DBP were affecting modalities of play in boys. Those boys who were exposed to high levels of these two phthalate forms in vitro, were less likely to play the types of games most commonly associated with “boy play.” This included playing with guns, cars and trains, as well as engaging in rougher, yet playful forms of fighting.
The study also found that larger servings of phthalates caused very serious abnormalities in animals, including undescended testicles, misplaced openings to the urethra on the penis, as well as other forms of “phthalate syndrome.”
Elizabeth Salter-Green, director of CHEM Trust, a chemical protection advocacy group, has stated that these concerns go beyond looking into children’s play, as certain phthalates may even cause boys to be born with genital abnormalities, reproductive problems and low sperm count. “We now know that phthalates, to which we are all constantly exposed, are extremely worrying from a health perspective,” she says. “This feminizing capacity of phthalates makes them true ‘gender benders’.”
The Health Risks of Phthalates
While it may be common scientific knowledge that phthalates can disrupt hormones, these chemicals are still appearing heavily in our daily lives. The E.U. and the U.S. have both banned these chemicals from children’s toys, despite heavy opposition from chemical industry groups, which financed a massive effort to stop the ban.
Despite this ban on phthalates in toys, we are constantly being exposed to phthalates in flooring, glues, cosmetics, paints, plastic furniture, packaging, shower curtains, dyes, textiles and even in baby bottles. Sadly, these chemicals are still deemed entirely safe by governmental regulations committees, despite overwhelming evidence from multiple studies on phthalates.
And young boys are not the only ones at risk. Studies show a clear link in the deterioration of adult male reproductive health and exposure to hormone-altering chemicals. There are also a plethora of studies on the association between plastic chemicals and breast cancer. Wildlife is also undergoing a “feminization” due to chemical exposure. Gwynne Lyons, toxics adviser to the WWF, stated that “this research highlights the need for tougher controls of gender-bending chemicals.” Despite these concerns, chemical companies putting phthalates into every-day household products maintain that the their chemicals are safe and rigourously tested.
- Shanna H. Swan, Ph.D. Pilot Study Relates Phthalate Exposure to Less-Masculin Play by Boys. International Journal of Andrology. 2006 November 16.
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