Exposure to plasticizers early in life increases the risk of developing allergies and atopic dermatitis (AD), a study conducted by a research team at National Taiwan University Hospital said yesterday.
The food scandal in 2011 in which plasticizers were found in various foodstuffs has aroused serious concerns over the chemical’s negative effect on human health, particularly its potential impact on children, as “children are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals because their organs are not yet mature,” said the study, which was led by Chen Pau-chung (陳保中), director of the hospital’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine.
The team said that studies over the past few years have shown that phthalates, used as plasticizers, have been associated with various health problems, including endocrine disruption, reproductive and developmental toxicity, and respiratory allergy.
Furthermore, epidemiological studies have shown a positive correlation between di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) exposure and asthma prevalence in children, the study said.
However, the research team’s study was the first objective assessment of exposure early in life, with a birth cohort study that addresses “the effect of early life phthalate exposure on the development of atopic disorders and the [immunoglobulin E]-sensitization by objective biomarkers.”
The study, started in 2004, follows 483 mother/infant pairs from pregnancy to age five. It found that there was a positive correlation between the level of mono-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (MEHP), a metabolite of DEHP, in two-year-old children’s (particularly in boys) urine and their serum immunoglobulin E (IgE) level, which, if elevated, could indicate allergy diseases such as asthma.
It also discovered that the presence of monobenzyl phthalate (MBzP), a metabolite of commonly used butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP), in the urine of two-year-old children had a significant association with the development of atopic dermatitis, Chen said.
“Those at the quartile with the highest urine MBzP level are at a 2.5-time higher risk of suffering AD than those of the other three-quarters,” he added.
Chen advised parents to avoid using polyvinyl chloride (PVC) flooring, where BBzP abounds, and from buying plastic toys that might contain DEHP.