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[greenyes] [mnkids] Thalates linked to sexual development

Last update: May 27, 2005 at 8:34 AM

Moms' cosmetics linked to sons' sexual development

Tom Meersman
Star Tribune
Published May 27, 2005

For the first time, scientists have found evidence that chemicals widely
used in cosmetics and plastics and found in pregnant women are adversely
affecting genital development in their infant boys.

The findings published by researchers at the University of Minnesota and
other institutions could have implications for the chemical industry and
for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Both have been under pressure
by public health groups to establish voluntary controls or regulations
on a family of chemicals called phthalates.

The study used the latest analytical equipment to measure phthalates in
the urine of 85 pregnant women. Physicians also looked for specific
indications of genital development abnormalities in the boys.

In earlier studies, male rodents exposed to some phthalates showed
specific genital abnormalities based on one measurement. The new study
found similar associations in humans. Mothers who had up to four types
of phthalates in their urine gave birth to boys with genital development

The boys, whose average age was 15 months, had one or more developmental
issues, including smaller penises and scrotums or less developed
testicles, compared to the boys whose mothers had fewer phthalates in
their urine, according to a report in today's issue of Environmental
Health Perspectives.

"We were able to show even with our relatively small sample that
phthalate-exposed boys have an increased likelihood of a cluster of
genital changes," said the study's lead researcher, Dr. Shanna Swan,
professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester
School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Swan said the findings are significant because the concentrations of
four phthalates in the mothers' urine were at levels found in more than
one quarter of the female population of the United States based on a
recent nationwide sample.

She said that researchers still are analyzing data to learn more about
the sources of phthalates that affected the mothers and their fetuses.
The study involved women and children from Minnesota, California and

Researchers relied partly on a measurement known as the anogenital
distance (AGD)--the distance between the anus and the base of the penis.
This measurement has been associated with abnormal genital development
in animal studies. Doctors conducting the research on the boys also
examined the penis, scrotum and location and size of each testicle.

The measurements were specifically created for this research and are not
typical in examinations in doctor visits.

Dr. Christine Ternand, pediatric endocrinologist at the University of
Minnesota Medical School who examined some of the baby boys, said that
no one can say whether the infants with shorter AGDs will face problems
as adult males. She said it's clear that the infants are "less
masculinized" -- at least at this point in their physical development --
than those with less exposure to the chemicals.

The study also involved scientists from UCLA, the University of
Missouri-Columbia, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. It was funded by the National Institute of Environmental
Health Sciences and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Phthalates are used in thousands of products such as toys, vinyl
flooring and wall covering, detergents, lubricating oils, food
packaging, pharmaceuticals, blood bags and tubing and personal care

Three years ago a coalition of environmental and public health groups
found phthalates in 52 of 72 beauty products, including deodorants,
fragrances, hair sprays and gels and lotions.

The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, a trade group, says
that beauty products are not a problem, and that they have been cleared
for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and by independent
scientific panels.

Tim Kropp, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, a
Washington, D.C., research and advocacy group, said that many phthalates
are not safe, and that the latest study confirms that exposure to them
at everyday levels is causing harm to children. "When it comes to
industrial chemicals, we must set safeguards that make sure consumer
products are safe before they go on store shelves and into our bodies,"
he said.

At the FDA, scientists are monitoring the phthalates research, but so
far have seen no compelling evidence that they are a safety risk, said
agency spokeswoman Kimberly Rawlings. "If we determine there is a health
hazard, FDA will take the appropriate action to protect the health and
welfare of consumers," Rawlings said.

Jane Hoppin, an epidemiologist at the National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences who was not involved in the latest study,
called its findings important and intriguing, in spite of a relatively
small number of babies involved. "I wouldn't go out and tell women to
not do something because of this, but it does add to the body of
literature that suggests that maybe something is going on," Hoppin said.

Ternand called the implications of the research "worrisome," and said
that another study with a larger group of mothers and babies needs to be
funded. "We're not looking at mouse models any more," she said. "We're
looking at infants, which as a clinician bothers me a whole lot more
than hearing about something going on with rodents."

Tom Meersman is atmeersman@no.address

(c) Copyright 2005 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

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