Phthalates are plasticizers (chemicals that make plastics soft) that are known to be dangerous hormone-disrupters for males and females of all ages, but especially in young children. Recently, studies have documented that the risks are indeed serious for pregnant mothers. Exposure to phthalates during pregnancy is likely behind the growing rates of birth defects in baby boy genitalia.
What birth defects? Oh, you know, “the incorrect placement of the opening in the penis (hypospadias), undescended testes (cryportchidism) and defective sperm production” according to this study. At Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, doctors repair the genitalia of roughly 300 baby boys every year – about double what they did 30 years ago. Which sounds right since hypospadias, nearly doubled in the United States between the late 1960s and early 1990s, according to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hmm – that timing happens to coorelate with the plastic revolution…
Where are phthalates? Sadly, they’re in the urine of just about every US citizen tested. That’s because they’re added to countless everyday products that contain artificial fragrances (think dish soap, perfume, and candles) and are extremely common in nail polish, soft plastics (think vinyl shower curtains, vinyl purses and cling wrap), adhesives and finishes.
You may have heard the good news that in 2009 phthalates are not permitted in toys and other products designed for children (UPDATE: Unfortunately, the Toy Safety Act was too poorly written, causing so much confusion that legislators decided to delay it’s implementation until 2010). However, our little ones still get plenty of exposure in the womb or in daily life through products not designed for children (as in, your shower curtain). The answer here lies in becoming a smart consumer, one who avoids plastic whenever possible.
If you or someone you love had problems trying to conceive, phthalates and other hormone-disrupting plastics may well be the cause. Let’s take steps in our own homes now to get the plastic out, so that the next generation is born and able to create new life again as nature intended.