Chemicals in plastics can affect hormones and could make baby boys more feminine, researchers from the University of Rochester, USA, have said. Boys exposed to high levels of the chemicals, known as phthalates, while in the womb were less likely to play rough and tumble games or with ‘boys’ toys, reports the BBC.
Phthalates are used in many household items, including plastic furniture, packaging, flooring, glues, dyes and textiles. There are different types of phthalates, some of which mimic oestrogen, a female hormone. Certain types also impact on the developing brain by affecting the action of the male hormone testosterone, said the researchers. They found two phthalates – DEHP and DBP – affect children’s play behaviour.
Urine from mums-to-be was tested for traces of phthalates by the researchers. The mums were followed up when their children were between 4 and 7 years, and were asked about the toys and games their children preferred. The boys who’d been exposed high amounts of DEHP and DBP in the womb weren’t as in to cars, trains, guns or rougher games as the other boys.
“We now know that phthalates, to which we are all constantly exposed, are extremely worrying from a health perspective, leading to disruption of male reproduction health and, it appears, male behaviour too,” said Elizabeth Salter-Green, director of CHEM Trust, a chemicals campaign group. “This feminising capacity of phthalates makes them true ‘gender benders’.”
Many different phthalates are currently used. The research involved two of ones that aren’t used as often, and both are the EU candidate list as potentially hazardous and need authorisation for use, said Tim Edgar, of the European Council for Plasticisers and Intermediates. “We need to get some scientific experts to look at this study in more detail before we can make a proper judgment,” he commented.
In the EU, phthalates in toys have been banned some years, and since 2005, DBP has been banned from use in cosmetics.