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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Washington Finds Infant Diet Exceeds EPA Guidelines for Phthalate Exposure

Significant exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals may come from our diet,  particularly from dairy products and other high-fat foods. New findings by researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health show that adolescents and infants may be especially vulnerable to high exposures of phthalates in their diet, exceeding even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines. The study was published in the June 2014 issue of Environmental Health.

Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana


[Photo: Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana]

Commonly used as plasticizers in food packaging, phthalates can leach out of packaging because of their chemistry. These endocrine-disrupting chemicals have been linked to adverse health effects, particularly in prenatal and early life exposures. Increased maternal urinary concentrations of metabolites have been associated with shorter anogenital distance in male infants, signaling the exposures may have an effect on male hormones and the development of male sex characteristics.

Ms. Samantha Serrano, and Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, an adjunct assistant professor in the School of Public Health, investigated how certain foods affect dietary exposure to phthalates. They analyzed data from 17 studies that measured phthalate concentrations in United States and international foods, three epidemiological association studies, and three interventions.

Cooking oils, cream-based dairy products, and meats, particularly poultry, had high  phthalate concentrations.

The estimated phthalate exposure in a typical diet consumed by adolescents and women of childbearing age fell below the EPA maximum acceptable dose. However, the exposure estimate for a typical diet in infants exceeded the EPA maximum dose, and a diet high in meat and dairy went over the threshold by approximately four times. For adolescents, a diet high in meat and dairy also exceeded the EPA maximum acceptable dose.

Dr. Russell Dills from the University of Washington, Dr. Joseph Braun from Brown University, and Dr. Leonardo Trasande from New York University also contributed to this study, which was funded by the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences and the University of Washington Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences.

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