Two chemicals found in various American household products may harm fetal development and possibly lower a child’s IQ, according to new research.
A new study, published in the journal PLOS One, found that there may be a link between prenatal exposure to chemicals called “phthalates” and childhood development.
The chemicals, Di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP) and di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP), can be found in a variety of products such as vinyl upholstery, shower curtains, plastic food containers, raincoats, dryer sheets, lipsticks, nail polishes, chemical air fresheners, shampoo fragrances, certain soaps and hairspray.
While these chemicals provide manufacturing benefits for the household products, they can also be absorbed into a person’s body.
In the study, researchers followed 328 women in New York City, who were either African-American or Dominican-American, and their children who were born between the years of 1998 and 2006.
The researchers measured the levels of the phthalates in the women’s urine when they were pregnant and then looked at the corresponding children’s IQ scores when they reached the age of 7.
Live Science reported that the researchers found the mothers who had the highest levels of the two chemicals in their urine also had children who had IQ scores that were 6 to 8 points lower than the other children whose mothers had a much lower chemical content in their urine.
“The magnitude of these IQ differences is troubling,” said senior author Robin Whyatt, professor of environmental health sciences and deputy director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health, in a Columbia University news release.
“A six-or seven-point decline in IQ may have substantial consequences for academic achievement and occupational potential,” Whyatt said.
In one aspect of the IQ study, Live Science reported that the researchers also found a possible link between the levels of the chemicals and the speed that the children processed information. The prenatal exposure to the chemicals may also decrease the children’s ability to understand nonverbal information and short-term memory retention.
CBS News reported the authors of the study acknowledge that the “mothers with a higher volume of chemicals in their system were still within the national average of a larger sample measured by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which indicates Americans are being exposed to too high a dose of these common chemicals.”
Unfortunately, some products can still harm women who are pregnant because companies are not required to list the chemical as one of their ingredients, according to The Washington Post.
Pam Factor-Litvak, the lead author of the study and an associate professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School, told Columbia University, “While there has been some regulation to ban phthalates from toys of young children, there is no legislation governing exposure during pregnancy, which is likely the most sensitive period for brain development.”
The researchers from the study advise pregnant women to limit their exposure to the two suspect phthalates by avoiding scented products like air fresheners and dryer sheets. Women can also avoid recyclable plastics labeled with a 3, 6 or 7 and decrease the amount of food that they microwave in plastic containers.
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