(The Guardian) - Scientists in America have found the first evidence that common chemicals used in products as diverse as cosmetics, toys, clingfilm and plastic bags may harm the development of unborn baby boys.
Tests showed that women with higher levels of four different phthalates were more likely to have baby boys with a range of conditions, from smaller penises and undescended testicles to a shorter perineum, the distance between the genitals and the anus. The differences, say the authors, indicate a feminisation of the boys similar to that seen in animals exposed to the chemicals.
The discovery poses a huge problem for the chemical industry, which is already embroiled in a battle with the government over EU proposals on chemical safety. Several types of phthalates have been banned, but many are still produced in vast quantities.
Andreas Kortenkamp, an expert in environmental pollutants at the School of Pharmacy in London, said: 'If it's true, it's sensational. This is the first time anyone's shown this effect in humans. It's an indicator that something's gone seriously wrong with development in the womb and that's why it's so serious.'
He added: 'These are mass chemicals. They are used in any plastic that is pliable, whether it's clingfilm, kidney dialysis tubes, blood bags or toys. Sorting this out is going to be an interesting challenge for industry as well as society.'