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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 1:21 EDT

Common Household Chemical Can Increase Child’s Risk for Eczema

June 28, 2012

(Ivanhoe Newswire) — A new study exposes the danger of the chemical butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP), a chemical found in the households of nearly 100 percent of the mothers studied. BBzP is often used in vinyl flooring and artificial leather, and it´s slowly released into home air. It can also increase a child’s risk for developing eczema.

Eczema is characterized by dry, itchy red skin on the face, scalp, or extremities and is common in early childhood. “While hereditary factors, allergens, and exposure to tobacco smoke are known to contribute to the condition, our study is the first to show that prenatal exposure to BBzP is a risk factor,” Allan C. Just, PhD, first author on the Mailman School study and currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, was quoted as saying.

The study examined 407 nonsmoking African-American and Dominican women and their children in New York City. Exposure to BBzP was measured using a urine test during the third trimester of pregnancy. Following birth, researchers asked the mothers if their child had been diagnosed with eczema. They found that onset of eczema by age 2 was 52 percent more likely in children whose mothers had been exposed to higher concentrations of BBzP, compared with those whose mothers had been exposed to lower concentrations. All but one of the women in the study showed some level of exposure to the chemical.

It is unclear how BBzP can induce eczema. To find out, researchers looked at allergies as a possible cause. Children were tested for three common indoor allergens: cockroaches, dust mites, and mice, as well as for total IgE, a biomarker for an immune response to all allergens. However, they found no evidence of a link between BBzP exposure and allergy.

“We know allergies are a factor with some childhood eczema, but our data suggest that is not the case when BBzP is involved,” senior author Rachel Miller, MD, Director of the Allergy and Immunology fellowship program and Associate Professor of Medicine (in Pediatrics) and Environmental Health Sciences, New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center; and a Co-Deputy Director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, was quoted as saying. “However, these are important findings, given that eczema is a common and uncomfortable disease of early childhood.”

Additionally, the researchers found that African-American mothers in the study were twice as likely as their Dominican-American counterparts to report their child´s diagnosis with eczema, but both groups had a similar association between BBzP exposure and the disease.

Study co-author Robin M. Whyatt, DrPH, Professor of Clinical Environmental Health Sciences and Co-Deputy Director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, conducted previous research which found that exposure to BBzP and other phthalates was shown to delay motor skill development in young children and to increase risk for behavioral problems. Phthalates are also known to disrupt the body’s endocrine system.

Source: Environmental Health Perspectives, June 2012