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As we reported on May 24, phthalates, a group of chemicals found in cosmetics, personal care products, and other common items have become the subject of debate with respect to their potential effect on humans. Products containing phthalates include hair sprays, deodorants, shampoos, nail polish, perfumes, body washes, skin creams, toys, vinyl flooring, inks, paints, Clingfilm, and medical equipment.

Until now, an indication that these chemicals might be harmful in some way to humans were test results that showed rats exposed to phthalates have a higher rate of birth defects related to the male reproductive system. Other studies only suggested possible links to early puberty in girls and decreased sperm counts in men. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that phthalate levels in young women were much higher than average.

A new study, however, indicates that when four particular phthalates are found above certain concentrations in the urine of pregnant women, the reproductive systems of their infant boys are adversely affected. The abnormalities detected include smaller penises and scrotums, and less developed testicles. It appears that the chemicals suppress production of the male sex hormone testosterone. The researchers found 25% of the women in the United States have concentrations of these four phthalates at this concentration level.

The study involved scientists and doctors at a number of universities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the United States Environmental Protection Agency and was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Many experts, environmental groups, and consumer advocates have expressed concern over these findings and have called for the immediate implementation of strong regulations to eliminate this serious health threat.

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