Study: PVC-floored homes are source of phthalate uptake in pregnant women

A new study in the SELMA project at Karlstad University, Sweden, shows that plastic flooring in the home are a source of uptake of phthalates in pregnant women, phthalates that are considered dangerous in the EU chemical regulation system.

PVC flooring often contain phthalates to make the plastic soft. Such plasticizers are not firmly bonded to the material but slowly leak to the environment during the entire life of the material and can therefore be routinely measured in indoor dust and air. One question then arises whether flooring materials made of softened PVC in the home can give rise to uptake of such chemicals in humans. This question has now been investigated in the SELMA study at Karlstad University.

The SELMA study follows about 2,000 mother-child pairs from early pregnancy over childbirth and up to school age for the children. The overall purpose of SELMA is to investigate how exposure to suspected endocrine disrupting chemicals (e.g., phthalates) during pregnancy can affect children's health and development.

In the current study, we collected information about the home using a survey of the families during early pregnancy. One question was about which flooring materials were found in the bedrooms and kitchen. At the same time, the pregnant woman's urine was analyzed for the contents of metabolites from 5 phthalates. The study included 1,764 women and the analyzes were adjusted for important background factors.

Analyzes show that pregnant women living in PVC-floored homes had higher levels of metabolites from three phthalates (DBP, BBzP and DEHP) when compared to women living in homes with other floor materials such as wood and linoleum. There was also indications for a dose-response relationship, i.e., the more rooms with PVC floors, the higher the levels of these phthalate metabolites in the urinary pregnant women's urine.

"We know that the three phthalates DBP, BBzP and DEHP are used in PVC flooring materials, but also in many other products," said Huan Shu, PhD in public health sciences at Stockholm University, and principal author of the study. However, many older phthalates such as DEHP have today been replaced with other plasticizers in PVC. Christina Rudén, a professor at Stockholm University says that these chemicals are currently occupied in EU limitation lists where they are considered dangerous and therefore will be forbidden. Carl-Gustaf Bornehag, professor at Karlstad University and project leader for the SELMA study, believes that these results show several basic problems with hazardous chemicals in goods and products. Although these chemicals are not used as much today, we find them in urine from all pregnant women in the SELMA study, which indicates that they are actually used. Another complicating factor is that flooring materials in a home have a life span of maybe 20-30 years, which means that we will be exposed and thus take up these chemicals for a very long time.

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