The Toronto Globe and Mail boils the phthalate safety issue down to the essence with this alarming headline today: "Plastics ingredient linked to smaller penises." I've seen that angle emphasized before on other Web sites, but this is the first time I've seen it from a mainstream newspaper. Most have danced around the subject, but wouldn't "go there." (I hesitated to link to it myself, but I assume that my blog readers are mature adults who are interested in how the media is portraying plastics issues). The story notes that researchers are looking at that angle because studies of male mice have suggested that some phthalates may have "the peculiar ability to shorten the space between the anus and the genitalia," known as the anogenital distance or AGD. "For mice, AGD is considered a measure of masculinity and a way to determine the sex of the pups. Scientists are so confident of the effect that they've given the impact of the chemical on male rodents a name -- phthalate syndrome," according to the Globe and Mail story. This story was the result of a study published in the journal Environmental Research by a team led by Shanna Swan, director of the Center for Reproductive Epidemiology at the University of Rochester's school of medicine. Swan's report was based on human research -- an examination of 106 U.S. boys, and "is among the first to raise the possibility that phthalate syndrome may also be at work in humans, because it found pregnant women with the highest amount of phthalates were markedly more likely to give birth to boys who had shorter anogenital distances." The story concludes with this information:
Dr. Swan cautioned that the research was conducted on a relatively small number of boys, and the findings need to be independently verified by other investigators. It also isn't known what effect, if any, the chemical might have on the fertility of the boys, later in life, because the group would need to be followed into adulthood. Nonetheless, Dr. Swan said she believes labelling laws need to be strengthened to allow consumers to choose whether to buy products or packaging that contain phthalates. Cosmetics often contain phthalates, but the chemical isn't specifically mentioned because it is included in other listed items, such as fragrances. Dr. Swan says she tries to buy phthalate-free cosmetics and doesn't store or microwave food in plastic containers, among other steps, to minimize her own exposure.