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Phthalates soften both plastics and boys' behaviors

By David Liu

Exposure of pregnant women to what makes plastics soft can feminize boys, according to a new study in the International Journal of Andrology.

The study showed that elevated levels of two plastic-softening chemicals in pregnant women's urine were associated with less masculine play behavior by they sons several years later.

Phthalates, used in many household products from vinyl floors to plastic tubing and soaps and lotions are pervasive in the environment and have already been linked to changes in development of the male brain, genital defects, metabolic abnormalities and reduced testosterone, the male sex hormone in babies and adults.

U.S. and British researchers studied the impact of the chemicals by questioning parents of 145 preschool-age children for their children's play behavior on a scale that indicates the masculinity and femininity.

An effect was found among the sons of women who had higher levels of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP) in their prenatal urine.

On average, the boys whose moms were exposed to the phthalates scored 8 percent further away from the masculine end of the scale than those whose moms were not exposed or less exposed.