Phthalates: Plastic Chemicals Damaging Babies’ Brains


(Photo : Photo by Rene Asmussen from Pexels)

A group of health professionals and scientists from Project TENDR urge the immediate ban of phthalates in consumer products — synthetic chemicals in plastics that damage children’s brain development.

Targeting Environmental Neuro-Development Risks or Project TENDR is a group of volunteer child advocates, scientists, and health professionals working to quantify and reduce children’s exposure to neurotoxic pollutants and chemicals.

Stephanie Engel, lead author of the study says, “What we want to accomplish is to move the public health community, including regulators, toward this goal of elimination of phthalates.”

Phthalates are ‘Everywhere Chemicals’

Found in hundreds of consumer products from food and personal care items, detergents, clothing, oils & adhesives, shampoos, and hair sprays, phthalates are “everywhere chemicals.” This common synthetic chemical makes consumer plastics more flexible and harder to break.

Under the current US FDA regulations, phthalates must be listed on the product label unless it is a part of the scent. However, studies show that phthalates as “fragrances” can sometimes be up to 20{b4bb8ddb70249670c85c66def16f765bd40a90ddaa69bcee7e340d9a7e1b07a9} of the product.

Phthalates have also been linked to asthma, childhood obesity, cardiovascular issues, reproductive problems, undescended testes in baby boys, and many more.

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Phthalates are Neurotoxins Damaging Babies’ Brains

The call to action from Project TENDR was published in the American Journal of Public Health on February 18th. It focuses primarily on the link between exposure to phthalate exposure and long-lasting neurodevelopmental dangers in fetuses, infants, and children.

The report notes that by 2019, more than 30 studies in roughly 11 different countries around the globe have examined prenatal exposure to different types of phthalates. Although not all studies have definitively found consistent results especially in cognitive development, report authors say that it may be due to the difference in study designs and children’s ages.

Researchers say hyperactivity, defiance, aggression, emotional reactivity, and signs of ADHD have been the strongest associations found in children’s neurodevelopment.

One study says that children exposed to higher levels of phthalates in utero were seen with IQ levels seven points lower than children with less exposure. Another study suggests that mothers with the highest levels of phthalates in their urine are three times more likely to have children diagnosed with ADHD.

The study continues by saying, “We strongly urge both federal and state agencies to move rapidly to eliminate phthalate use,” It adds by saying that states should be the first to act since its actions can galvanize federal regulations.

Timing of Phthalates Exposure

Unlike other toxic materials such as mercury, lead, and arsenic, phthalates rapidly metabolize and typically leave the body when exposure is removed.

David Bellinger, a professor of neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital and a volunteer at  Project TENDR says, “They have much shorted biological half-lives than, say, the heavy metals, which can hang around for decades.” 

The problem as Bellinger states is that when the baby’s development is impeded and impacted by the synthetic chemical in utero, the damage is permanent and cannot be reversed.

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