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Study links phthalates to asthma

By: Mike Verespej

September 7, 2012

NEW YORK (Sept. 7, 2:20 p.m. ET) — A new research study says that children between the ages of 5 and 9 who are exposed to two types of phthalates found in personal-care products have an elevated risk of asthma-related airway inflammation.

The study — conducted by the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health in New York — found that all of the 244 children had detectable levels of phthalates in their urine, as well as higher levels of diethyl phthalate and butylbenzyl phthalate in their urine samples.

The researchers said the higher level of phthalates in those urine samples were associated with higher levels of nitric oxide in their exhaled breath, a biological marker of airway inflammation.

The association between BBzP exposure and airway inflammation was especially strong among children who had recently reported wheeze, a common symptom of asthma, said the researchers.

“While many factors contribute to childhood asthma, our study shows that exposure to phthalates may play a significant role,” said Allan Just, a postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the report.

The study did not specify what type of products with phthalates the children in the study might have been exposed to. All the children live in northern Manhattan and the south Bronx, where asthma prevalence is high.

It is the first study to use exhaled nitric oxide in a study of phthalate exposure in children.

“Many asthma patients only have asthma exacerbations a few times a year, making it difficult to discern short-term associations between environmental exposures and the disease,” said Matthew Perzanowski, senior author of the report and associate professor of environmental health sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. “To solve this problem, we used nitric oxide, which has been shown to be a reliable marker of airway inflammation in response to known asthma triggers like vehicle emissions.”

“The study by the Columbia Center should be interpreted with great caution,” said Steve Risotto, senior director of the phthalates ester panel at the American Chemistry Council in Washington.

“The report is based on a single measurement of phthalate meta­bolite concentrations and fails to recognize that phthalates are broken down within hours and quickly eliminated from the body,” while the airway inflammation measured might take days or even weeks to manifest itself.

“Importantly the authors note that they found ‘no direct association’ between any of the phthalate metabolites and more traditional measures of asthma and allergy among the children tested,” Risotto said.