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One More Problem with Phthalates: Preterm Birth

Phthalates, as you know, have been ordered removed from children’s goods, which includes food contact materials. But they’re still found in common items, such as shower curtains, personal body care products, and various medical products, among many other things. Phthalates soften plastic and bind “fragrance” to the products that contain it. [Hint: look for PVC and fragrance, and you’ll find phthalates.]

So what’s the big deal? They’re endocrine disruptors, which means they interfere with the normal functions of hormones. Phthalates have been linked to early onset of puberty in girls, obesity, lower sperm count and testosterone level, under-virilized boys, and male genital deformities such as hypospadias (in which the urinary opening is located somewhere besides the head of the penis, like the underside). Whee!

And now they’ve been linked to preterm birth. Makes you wonder if we should kick the chemical out of all products, doesn’t it?


A study out of Mexico City focused on 60 women: 30 who delivered preterm babies, and 30 who gave birth at full term. The babies considered “preterm” were born before 37 weeks’ gestation.

To perform the study, researchers collected urine samples during the third trimester and looked at 11 different phthalates.

Those with an above-average level of phthalates had a 2- to 4-fold increased risk of delivering preterm. That’s compared to those who had an average or below average level of phthalates in their urine.

The women in this study had the same range of phtalates in their systems as American women.

Because the study is relatively small and new, researchers say that it must be followed up with further study.

The study is posted on the Environmental Health Perspectives site, and is available for free in full in pdf format.

Want to minimize exposure?

Image: The 5th Ape on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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  1. Does anyone have a link to a PVC-free / phthalate free shower curtain? I live in an apartment, so installing a glass door is not an option. Thanks!

  2. M:
    The link above highlighted on “shower curtains” is a blog Jennifer Lance did about PVC-free shower curtains.

    I’m about to go back in and provide those links and hints, folks, in case you see the blog has changed!


  1. […] me. I know. I was addicted to perfume as well. The big problem is that perfume usually contains phthalates, which are hidden in the non-descript ingredient “fragrance.” So you can unwittingly be […]

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