Prenatal exposure to a common household chemical nearly doubles the risk for childhood eczema, a new study says
The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found pregnant women exposed to the chemical – called butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP), used in vinyl flooring, artificial leather and other products – are significantly more likely to have children who develop the condition, which causes dry, red, itchy skin.
"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 BBzP is a risk factor," said Allan C. Just, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health.
The research, conducted at the Columbia University Center for Children's Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health, involved more than 400 women and their children in New York City. Exposure to BBzP was measured through a urine test during pregnancy.
Researchers found women exposed to higher levels of the chemical were 52 percent more likely to report their children suffered eczema by age 2 than mothers exposed to lower concentrations. All but one of the women in the study showed some level of exposure to the chemical.
"We know allergies are a factor with some childhood eczema, but our data suggest that is not the case when BBzP is involved," said Dr. Rachel Miller, with the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health. "However, these are important findings, given that eczema is a common and uncomfortable disease of early childhood."
Past Columbia research has found exposure to BBzP and other phthalates can delay motor skills development in young children and increase risk for behavioral problems. Phthalates are also known to disrupt the body's endocrine system.
The new study was funded, in part, by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences