- Babies exposed to high levels of phthalates in the womb are up to 78% more at risk
- Scientist suggests women check their make-up on internet for phthalates
- Avoid using plastic containers and as much as you can store your food in glass jars in the fridge
- Around 5.4million Britons have asthma, including 1.1million children
Chemicals in make-up, perfume and plastic containers could be behind a surge in the incidence of asthma in children, researchers warned yesterday. Scientists have found that babies exposed to high levels of phthalates while in the womb are up to 78 per cent more at risk of the condition.
They think the chemicals may be causing foetuses’ airways to become more sensitive, making them susceptible to asthma in their childhood years. The academics are urging parents to reduce the risk by avoiding using plastic containers, perfume and heavily scented washing detergents.
Asthma rates in children in the UK have increased by between two and three times since the 1950s and a similar trend has been noticed in other Western countries. Researchers at the University of Columbia in New York measured the level of two types of phthalates – butylbenzyl and di-n-butyl – in the urine of 300 pregnant women.
The mothers were then given questionnaires when their children were aged five, six, seven, nine and 11 to determine if they had asthma symptoms. The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that children born to women with the highest levels of butylbenzyl phthalate were 72 per cent more likely to develop asthma.
There are some simple steps families can take. Avoid using plastic containers and as much as you can store your food in glass jars in the fridge’ Those with the highest levels of di-n-butyl phthalate were 78 per cent more at risk compared to women with low levels. Dr Robin Whyatt, of Columbia University, said: ‘These chemicals are very widely used in very high volume and they are not generally listed on labels.
‘There are some simple steps families can take. Avoid using plastic containers and as much as you can store your food in glass jars in the fridge. ‘Never microwave in plastic. It is also worth considering cutting back on using any scented products – cosmetics, perfumes, air fresheners and detergents.’
She also suggested women check their make-up on the internet for phthalates. Around 5.4million Britons have asthma, including 1.1million children, and it causes up to 1,250 deaths a year. Dr Samantha Walker, director of research and policy at the charity Asthma UK, said: ‘It is a complex condition and these new research findings need to be explored in much more detail.’