The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit, non-partisan organization whose mission is to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment, states on its website that, “Studies have linked phthalates to hormone changes, lower sperm count, less mobile sperm, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes and thyroid irregularities.”
Lamar University civil engineering major, Omar Aguilar, has completed an eight-month study that analyzed the amount of phthalates found in products that commonly come in contact with infants or younger children. Phthalates are a group of man-made chemicals that are used to increase the flexibility of plastics, but can be harmful to humans, especially children.
“It doesn’t have as much of an effect (on adults) because we can get rid of it easier than a baby or little kid can, because our bodies are more developed now,” Aguilar said. “But it’s bad for pregnant women — really bad for pregnant women to be exposed to it — because I read that whenever a woman is pregnant, and she is taking a lot of those chemicals, it effects the baby, too.
“After the baby is born, it can be born with a defective male organ. There are plenty of birth defects — a male can actually grow breasts whenever he gets older, women can get breast cancer from it, it’s been linked to breast cancer, girls get early puberty and there are a lot of other effects that it has.”
Phthalates are harmful because they are everywhere, Aguilar said. The majority of plastic items contain them.
“They are in your cups, anything that’s plastic, basically, has them, and they don’t stay in the plastic, they get out and they get into your water,” he said. “They get into whatever you might be eating, drinking, etc., and they don’t just come from one thing they come from several different things.
“Say you’re packing your lunch, you’re going to work and put your stuff in a plastic container because that’s all you have. You heat it up and all of that gets transferred into your food. Then you’re drinking from a cup that’s made out of plastic and you’re getting it from that too, so it all adds up.”
Saliva also contributes to drawing phthalates out of the plastic, Aguilar said.
In June, right after finishing the experiment, Aguilar presented his research at The National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Asheville, N.C.
“It was basically a lot of college students, all undergraduate students,” he said. “They would present on what they researched during that whole semester or year. There were a lot of people who would do politics, people who would do social studies on kids — you would go around and you would talk to all these people and see what they did, and get ideas from them.”
“It disrupts your hormone system — the chemicals do something to your body, and it thinks a lot of hormones are there, so they stop producing or limit the producing — because the body thinks this is something relative to hormones,” he said.
Aguilar’s research focus was whether or not phthalates leach into food. Gomes researched the standard procedures other universities followed that would coincide best with the resources available through Lamar to conduct this type of experiment.
Aguilar analyzed the amount of phthalates found in a ham, cheese and cracker lunch products, baby teethers and powdered milk by extracting phthalates from them. He then used a liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry machine to measure how many micrograms of Dibutyl phthalate were in one gram of the baby products.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission, a government agency charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with the use of the thousands of types of consumer products, states on its website that, “Congress has permanently banned three types of phthalates — DEHP, DBP and BBP — in any amount greater than 0.1 percent in children’s toys, and any child care article that is designed or intended, by the manufacturer, to facilitate sleep or the feeding of children ages three and younger, or to help with sucking or teething.”
Gomes said this means 1,000 micrograms, or one milligram, in one gram of childrens’ products.
“We found 3.6 microgram of DBP in 1g of ham, 0.072 microgram in 1g of cheese, and 0.063 microgram in 1g of cracker in Lunchables’ product,” he said. “We found 0.063 microgram of DBP in 1g of teething and 8.3 microgram of DBP in 1g of baby milk powder.
“We are still below the EPA (limit). But something we have discovered here is that the meat is below EPA limit, but still it is high, compared to other things, and children are still getting it — and milk is borderline and this is being drunk by newborn babies. They are drinking the milk and nothing else — and that is a concern.”
Gomes said he would like to do further research on phthalates to complete the investigation.
“That should be a good way to attack this problem,” he said. “Maybe we have only one voice, but it’s that one voice to be heard by the lawmakers in whether they should strict the policy on phthalates.”
Gomes said that Aguilar’s research suggests changes should be made.
“It is this one voice that says simply we cannot let everything work as is, we have to consider detrimental impact, and we should do some more research to find out the detrimental impact on our body or children,” he said. “Children are our future, so we (shouldn’t) feed them anything that might defect several body parts.”
Gomes compared Aguilar’s research to his own previous studies on lead and mercury.
“I know lead makes your nervous system bad or worse, but this one is doing something to your hormone system, your reproductive system — we don’t want a healthy baby to become sick in its lifetime, or show some abnormality,” he said. “Whatever small amount (of phthalates) is, we have to be very careful.”