Phthalates are increasingly cause for concern, as a growing body of evidence finds links between this common class of chemicals and some serious health problems. A new study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, suggests that exposure to phthalates may lead to a higher risk of miscarriage.
Researchers in China measured women’s levels of phthalate exposure by testing their urine for metabolites of the compound. They tested samples from 132 women who had miscarriages and 172 women who healthy pregnancies. They found that miscarriages were associated with high levels of phthalate metabolites. Although this type of epidemiological study does not prove causation, it does add to existing evidence that the association exists.
Phthalates are commonly used in flexible plastics, like vinyl and water-proof clothing, as well as packaging. They are also used in a number of personal care products, such as hairspray, nail polish, soaps and shampoos. Concerns about the negative effects of phthalates on childhood development lead to them being banned from certain toys for young children. U.S. manufacturers can no longer use certain phthalates in teething rings and rattles.
This is not the first study to find a link between phthalates and reproductive problems. A Danish study from 2012 found that higher exposures of phthalates around the time of conception was associated with a higher risk of miscarriage based on data from 430 couples.
Other studies have linked phthalates with development problems for babies as they grow in the womb. One study linked maternal exposure to phthalates with lower IQs, while another suggested a higher risk of autism.
As of June 2015, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is reviewing data on these chemicals to see if further bans should be imposed—or if the current ban should be lifted. Meanwhile, a number of manufacturers have already begun removing phthalates from their products.