Common plasticizer linked to childhood skin problem.

Sep 12, 2012

Just, AC, RM Whyatt, MS Perzanowski, AM Calafat, FP Perera, IF Goldstein, Q Chen, AG Rundle and RL Miller. 2012. Prenatal exposure to butylbenzyl phthalate and early eczema in an urban cohort. Environmental Health Perspectives http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1104544.

Synopsis by Glenys Webster

Children with higher exposures in the womb to a phthalate called BBzP are at greater risk of developing eczema before age 2, concludes a study of African-Americans and Dominicans from New York City. There is widespread exposure to the plasticizer, which is found in vinyl flooring. The study is the first to link prenatal BBzP exposures to the skin disorder.

Prebirth exposures to BBzP – a common phthalate plasticizer – increase the risk of eczema in toddlers, reports a study from Columbia University. Overall, the children whose mothers had higher exposures were 50 percent more likely to get eczema when compared with the children of mothers who had lower exposures.

About one-third of the youngsters developed the skin rash before turning 2, while 41 percent of the African-American toddlers had the condition by the same age.

This is the first time that BBzP levels measured during pregnancy have been linked to increased risk of this common childhood skin disease.

Eczema is an itchy, recurrent skin rash that often appears in early childhood and can predict the onset of allergies later in life. The condition affects approximately 11 percent of U.S. children. Rates are thought to be rising over time.

Kids are more likely to have eczema if they live in urban areas, come from more educated households or are African American. Family history, allergens, exposure to tobacco smoke and food sensitivities also contribute to the onset of the disease. Exposures to chemicals such as BBzP may also play a role.

BBzP, or butylbenzyl phthalate, is used in vinyl flooring, artificial leather, traffic cones and conveyor belts. The United States and the European Union recently restricted the use of BBzP in soft vinyl children’s toys and in child care items, but it is still widely used in other consumer products.

The plasticizer can contaminate indoor air, dust and food. People can eat it, breathe it or absorb it through skin. Nearly everyone carries levels of MBzP – a metabolite of BBzP – in their urine, indicating that the general population is widely exposed to BBzP.

Researchers measured MBzP in urine collected from 407 pregnant African-American and Dominican women who lived in New York City from 1999 - 2006. After birth, mothers were asked if their child had been diagnosed with eczema before age 6. Because allergies are a factor with some cases of childhood eczema, each child’s blood was also tested at 2, 3 and 5 years old for markers of exposure to three common indoor allergens – cockroaches, dust mites and mice.

The findings appear in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

MBzP was found in all but one urine sample. Thirty percent of children developed eczema by age 2, and the disease was found more often in African-American children (42 percent) than in Dominican children (21 percent). Overall, the risk of developing eczema before age 2 was 52 percent higher in children born to mothers with higher MBzP levels compared to those with lower prebirth exposures, after accounting for the child’s sex, ethnicity and other factors. Sensitization to indoor allergens did not affect the results.

The findings suggest that BBzP exposure may act to increase the risk of eczema in young children through a non-allergic mechanism. The results support a recent Swedish study reporting higher BBzP levels in the bedroom dust of children with eczema compared to controls. This is the first time that pre-birth exposures to BBzP have been linked to eczema in children.

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