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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UAlbany: The Impact of Maternal Pthalates on In Utero Penile Measurements Varies by Race

Ms. Celeste D. Butts and Dr. Michael S. Bloom, at the University at Albany School of Public Health, recently studied phthalates and their impact on male genital development in the womb. As the first study to use prenatal ultrasound measurements to examine how maternal exposure to phthalates may be connected to male genital development, the researchers found that the exposure may adversely affect development – and this impact may differ based on race.

Phthalates are found in everyday items such as plastics, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products; therefore, mothers face exposure to phthalates during their pregnancy. The researchers collected urine samples from women who were planning on giving birth at the Medical University of South Carolina between 2011 and 2014 to detect their exposure to phthalates. Prenatal ultrasounds were conducted to measure their fetuses’ penile length and width.

Overall, there were no associations between the amount of phthalates in the mothers’ urine and the penile measurements gathered by ultrasound. However, when broken down by race, phthalate exposure had an impact on penile measurements. For the African American fetuses, as exposure to certain phthalate compounds increased, penile size measurements decreased. These babies also experienced increased exposure to certain phthalates when compared to the white babies, which may in part explain the decrease in penile measurements.

The results suggest that there may be a greater vulnerability to phthalates among African Americans compared with whites. Based on these results, the researchers recommend that pregnant mothers, regardless of race, attempt to limit their exposure.

The full results can be found in Prenatal Diagnosis.