When expectant mothers are exposed to plastics chemicals called phthalates during the first trimester, their male offspring may have a greater risk of infertility later in life, a new study in the journal Human Reproduction suggests.
Boys exposed to the chemical diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) may be born with a significantly shorter anogenital distance than those not exposed to these chemicals. Anogenital distance is the distance between the anus and the genitals. A shorter anogenital distance has been linked to infertility and low sperm count, the researchers explained.
“We saw these changes even though moms’ exposure to DEHP has dropped 50 percent in the past 10 years,” said lead researcher Shanna Swan, a professor of preventive medicine and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. “Therefore, we have not found a safe level of phthalate exposure for pregnant women.”
DEHP is used to soften plastics. Most exposure results from eating foods that pick up the chemical during processing, Swan said.