New research from the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health shows that prenatal exposure to a ubiquitous household chemical called butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP) can increase a child’s risk for developing eczema. The research not only shows a risk for eczema, but also points out that all but one of the women in their study showed some level of exposure to the chemical BBzB which is widely used in vinyl flooring, artificial leather and other materials. The researchers measured exposure to BBzB via urine tests during the third trimester of pregnancy. After the babies were born, the mothers in the study were asked if their child had been diagnosed with eczema. The final result: onset of eczema by age 2 was 52% more likely for children whose mothers had been exposed to high concentrations of BBzP. While it’s clear that BBzP can cause problems, what’s less clear is how this chemical actually raises the risk for eczema. The researchers estimated that allergies might be a possible mechanism, but after testing the children for common indoor allergens, they found no evidence of a link between BBzP exposure and allergy.

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image by Flickr User olga.palma

This is important research because neither eczema or BBzP and other phthalates are a picnic. Eczema is characterized by itchy rashes, small raised bumps which may leak fluid and crust over, thickened, cracked or scaly skin and super sensitive and raw skin due to constant itching. This condition may occur on the face, scalp or other areas of the body and is common in young children. Allan C. Just, PhD, first author on the Mailman School study notes, “While hereditary factors, allergens, and exposure to tobacco smoke are known to contribute to the condition, our study is the first to show that prenatal exposure to BBzB is a risk factor.” Past research shows that exposure to BBzP and other phthalates may delay motor skill development in young children, mess with their immune system and possibly increase risks for obesity and behavioral problems. On top of that, as frequent Inhabitots readers will know, phthalates are also known to disrupt the endocrine system. Although this new research is a bit confounding, meaning the researchers can’t nail down why BBzP causes eczema, why not just avoid as many chemicals as you can while pregnant? Already we know that most pregnant women carry far too many harmful chemicals in their bodies. You can cut your chemical exposure while pregnant by eating organic, avoiding plastics, using safe body care products and eating less meat and fresh, not canned foods.

Lead image by christgr via sxc.