Exposure of pregnant women to phthalates, one of the causes of premature births

Exposure of pregnant women to phthalates is one of the causes of premature births. In the USA, for example, following a study it was discovered that one in ten pregnant women give birth before term precisely because of these chemicals found in plastic.

Pregnant women should avoid prolonged exposure to plastics. Photo source: archive

For this research, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, the authors analyzed the level of phthalates in the urine of more than 5,000 pregnant women in the United States, writes Agerpres..

According to the analyses, the 10% with the highest levels of phthalates had a 50% higher risk of preterm birth (defined as a gestation of less than 37 weeks), compared to the 10% with the lowest levels.

These chemical products, endocrine and metabolic disruptors, “can precipitate labor and premature births”, the main author of the study, Dr. Leonardo Trasande, from the Langone Medical Center of New York University (NYU), told AFP.

Extrapolating across the entire United States, about 56,600 preterm births may have been linked to phthalate exposure in 2018, about 10% of preterm births that year.

The medical costs of preterm births run into the billions of dollars

Because prematurity can lead to health problems, the researchers also estimated the medical and social costs of premature births associated with phthalates: between $1.6 billion and $8.1 billion.

Although the study was conducted in the United States, Leonardo Trasande estimated, given the ubiquity of phthalates, that between 5% and 10% of premature births in most other countries could be linked to these chemicals.

For the researcher, more than three quarters of exposure to phthalates comes from plastics. But”plastic manufacturers don't pay for the health effects, they don't take care of these premature babies“, he pointed out.

Awareness of the potential danger of phthalates, especially DEHP, has led some plastic manufacturers to try to replace them with other compounds from the same chemical group. “Even scarier,” in this new study, “replacement phthalates are associated with even greater effects than DEHP“, according to Leonardo Trasande.

This research cannot prove a causal link between phthalates and prematurity, but “an overwhelming number of observational studies support this hypothesisStephanie Eick, an expert in reproductive health at the University of California, who was not involved in the research, told AFP.

A meta-analysis conducted by American researchers and published in 2022 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics showed that a high level of exposure of pregnant women to phthalates was associated with an increased risk of prematurity, between 12% and 16%, depending on the type of phthalate.