Climate Health Medical

Study links phthalate exposure to thousands of preterm births in US

About 152 million vulnerable babies were born too soon in the last decade ended 2020 and South Asian and Sub-Saharan regions accounted for more than 65% of preterm birth annually, the WHO stated. 

HQ Team

February 9, 2024: A comprehensive study has revealed a correlation between phthalate exposure and preterm births. Phthalates are chemical compounds used in cosmetics and plastic products to make them more durable.

Impact of phthalate exposure

Exposure to phthalates is linked to approximately 56,600 preterm births in the US in 2018 alone. These findings underscore the profound health implications of phthalate exposure, extending to increased risks of obesity, cancer, and fertility issues. Phthalates are known to interfere with hormone functions


Led by experts from NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the study represents the largest of its kind, analyzing data from over 5,000 American mothers. By examining urine samples for metabolite levels, researchers identified associations between phthalate exposure and preterm births, emphasizing the need for proactive measures to address this pressing public health concern.

“Our findings uncover the tremendous medical and financial burden of preterm births we believe are connected to phthalates, adding to the vast body of evidence that these chemicals present a serious danger to human health,” said study lead author Leonardo Trasande, MD, MRP, professor in the Department of Pediatrics at NYU Langone Health. “There is a clear opportunity here to lessen these risks by either using safer plastic materials or by reducing the use of plastic altogether whenever possible,” added Dr. Trasande.

Identifying hazardous chemicals

The researchers analyzed data from the Environmental Influences on Childhood Health Outcomes (ECHO) program, focusing on the effects of various environmental, social, and economic factors on children’s health. By collecting urine samples from pregnant subjects at three points during each pregnancy, researchers assessed prenatal phthalate exposure by measuring 20 different metabolites. They then examined the association between these metabolite levels and preterm births.

The study revealed significant correlations between phthalate exposure and preterm births, particularly concerning di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and its alternatives, including di-isodecyl phthalate (DIDP), di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP), and diisononyl phthalate (DiNP). Mothers with higher levels of DEHP metabolites had a 50 percent increased risk of preterm birth compared to those with lower levels, while exposure to DEHP alternatives doubled the risk of preterm birth.

Furthermore, the research estimated the monetary costs associated with preterm births, including medical bills, intensive care unit stays, and lost worker productivity due to decreased IQ points over a lifetime.

Regulation calls

The FDA regulations based on various reports require the manufacturers to list the phthalates used but based on available research does not find any evidence linking the chemicals to preterm births

Lead author Dr. Trasande advocates for regulating phthalates as a class rather than addressing them individually. The study emphasizes the necessity of proactive regulatory measures to protect public health and mitigate the adverse effects of phthalate exposure on maternal and infant well-being.

The study underscores the critical need for regulatory action to address the pervasive risks associated with phthalate exposure. By implementing comprehensive measures to regulate harmful chemicals in consumer products, policymakers can safeguard public health and mitigate the significant burden of preterm births on society.

The new study was published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health.

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