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Your Environment. Your Health.

High-Molecular Weight Phthalates Linked to Later Puberty Onset

Mary Snow Wolff, Ph.D.; Susan Teitelbaum, Ph.D.; Lawrence Kushi, Sc.D.; Frank Biro, M.D.; Susan Pinney, Ph.D.
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Kaiser Foundation Research Institute, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine
NIEHS Grants U01ES012770, U01ES012771, U01ES012800, U01ES012801, U01ES019435, U01ES019453, U01ES019454, U01ES019457, P01ES009584, P30ES006096

Researchers, who are part of the NIEHS Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program, found that urinary concentrations of metabolites of high molecular weight phthalates are associated with later onset of puberty in girls. Phthalates are found in many consumer products, medical devices, and building materials. This research adds to the growing evidence that phthalate exposure may interfere with development.

The researchers measured phthalates in urine collected from 1,170 girls when they were enrolled in the study at ages 6 to 8 between 2004 and 2007. Phthalate concentrations ranged from less than 1 to more than 10,000 milligrams per liter. The researchers followed the study participants and collected information on body size, weight and height, as well as breast and pubic hair development stages, either once or twice per year throughout follow up until 2011. They found that 10-fold higher exposures to high molecular weight phthalates, including di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, as estimated from urinary concentrations of metabolites, were associated with an approximately eight-month delay of transition into puberty as marked by onset of pubic hair development. The relationship between phthalate concentration and later puberty was stronger among normal-weight girls.

After adjusting for confounders, the researchers observed no association between low molecular weight phthalate urinary metabolite concentrations and age of puberty onset as defined by onset of breast or pubic hair development. The researchers point out that more studies are needed to determine whether childhood exposures act alone or add to other earlier life insults, and to understand variability in early-life phthalate exposures.

Citation: Wolff MS, Teitelbaum SL, McGovern K, Windham GC, Pinney SM, Galvez M, Calafat AM, Kushi LH, Biro FM; on behalf of the Breast Cancer and Environment Research Program. 2014. Phthalate exposure and pubertal development in a longitudinal study of US girls. Hum Reprod. 2014 Apr 29. [Epub ahead of print].

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