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    Common Chemical May Disrupt Kids' Development

    Study Shows Exposure to Phthalates During Pregnancy May Be Linked to Behavioral Issues

    Findings Spark Controversy

    The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that supports regulating phthalates, welcomes Whyatt's study.

    "This study is further confirmation that prenatal exposure to phthalates is harmful to the development of our children's brains," the NRDC's Sarah Janssen, MD, says in a statement.

    However, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), which represents the chemical industry, disputes the validity of the study.

    "Since all of the children in the study appear to be within the normal range of variability, it appears the authors' conclusion -- that the minor differences seen in the study are indicative of behavioral problems -- is not supported by the science," reads the statement, which questioned the study's methods. "It is inappropriate to suggest that a spot measurement from the pregnant mother can be associated with behavioral effects in her child."

    Whyatt was quick to respond:

    "I have no idea what ACC would call 'normal' but it should be noted that 17.6% of children in our study evidenced risk of motor [muscular coordination] delay; 27.9% evidenced risk of mental delay and 12.9% were in the clinical range for internalizing behaviors," she writes in an email. "No matter how you characterize it, these proportions are concerning."

    As for the "spot measurement," Whyatt stands by the method she and her colleagues used.

    "We, in fact, did a lot of work to evaluate the reliability of the biomarkers used in this study," she writes. Whyatt is convinced that the impact of phthalates on a child's development is something to be taken very seriously; however, she says, there is little that can be done to avoid the chemicals, which are found everywhere.

    "I wish I had some advice to offer," she says.

    Whyatt does agree with the ACC that there are numerous factors that may put a child's development at risk and that phthalates are just one of them. However, she says, simply because multiple risk factors may be at play is not grounds for dismissing the risks posed by phthalates.

    But there are also factors that play a positive role for growing children that Whyatt says have a far greater impact on their development.

    "The most important thing is how parents interact with their children, that they read and play with them," she says. "Reading and playing are way more important than these risk factors."

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