New Brunswick, N.J. (Oct. 29, 2018) – Rutgers scientist Emily Barrett can provide analysis of a new study that links prenatal exposure to chemicals used in plastics to delays in early childhood language development.

The study appears today in JAMA Pediatrics. Conducted by U.S. and Swedish researchers, it is one of the first studies to examine the correlation between first trimester exposure to phthalates and infants’ language development.

Known as “plasticizers,” phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and durable. Phthalates are used in many products, including vinyl flooring, piping, detergents, packaging, medical tubing, toys and personal care products such soaps and shampoos. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found widespread exposure to phthalates in the general population, but say more research is needed to assess the health effects.

According to Barrett, a co-investigator on the study, concentrations of the metabolites of two specific phthalates -- dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP) -- were significantly associated with language delays in children at 2.5 to 3 years of age.

 “Because phthalates are not chemically bound to consumer products, they can seep into the environment,” she said. “They have often been identified in urine, blood and breast milk but have also been found in amniotic fluid, which suggests they can transfer to the fetus through the placenta. Virtually 100 percent of people studied have measurable levels of these chemicals in their bodies because they can be so readily ingested, inhaled and absorbed through the skin.”

 Barrett said delays in language development are important because they may be early signals of learning difficulties and a need for special services later in childhood. “This study adds to the growing body of work suggesting that phthalates may be harmful to the developing fetus and suggests that we may need tighter regulation of these chemicals in the everyday products we use,” she said.

 Barrett is an associate professor at Rutgers School of Public Health and Rutgers Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute. She studies how exposures early in life shape our subsequent health and developmental trajectories. Much of her research focuses on prenatal exposure to agents that interfere with normal activity of hormones in the body.

Barrett can reached by contacting Cait Coyle at [email protected] or 848-445-1955.