Phthalates are sometimes called the “everywhere chemicals” because they seem to be everywhere, and new research shows that even vinyl crib mattress covers may be increasing phthalate exposure. The United States has struggled to reduce phthalate exposure to children, because they have been tied to numerous health issues. A major exposure risk for infants is at the center of new research.
Vinyl mattress covers are used in infants’ cribs, because they offer a wipeable waterproof barrier to protect the mattress from babies’ leaks, but could they be compounding infants’ phthalate exposure? A new study examined whether crib protectors might increase phthalate exposure to babies, because babies are at greatest risk from this type of toxic exposure.
Though the United States has banned many phthalate-containing plastics from baby items, researchers Ying Xu and Yirui Liang were interested in figuring out if crib protectors made with “safer plastics” might be subjecting babies to high levels of alternative phthalates.
“U.S. Congress banned six kinds of phthalates from toys in 2008, and manufacturers have been turning to alternative plasticizers, which are different phthalates,” the press release from the American Chemical Society explained, citing the reason for testing vinyl crib protectors. “But little is known about the toxicity of these replacements or whether they waft into the air infants breathe for 12 to 14 hours per day at potentially harmful levels.”
As plastics warm up, they usually emit more phthalates into the air, because warmth softens the plastics, according to Medical News Today. The researchers were concerned that, as the vinyl crib covers warmed up from sunlight or body heat, the phthalates could be emitted into the air causing babies to breathe in potential toxins.
“When warmed by sunlight or a body’s heat, vinyl covers for crib mattresses release more phthalates,” a press release from the American Chemical Society explained of the recent findings confirming Xu and Liang’s suspicions. The researchers noticed that in a warm room, vinyl crib protectors did release alternative phthalates.
After that, the researchers estimated how much of the emissions babies might be breathing in as the room was warmed. The crib covers, as it turned out, increased the amount of phthalate exposure by as much as 400 percent in warm conditions.
The findings were published in Environmental Science & Technology. When the plastic of the crib cover was warmed to just 95 degrees fahrenheit by the infant’s body, or the sun, emissions increased significantly. A baby’s microenvironment within the crib can make the baby’s actual breathing zone a risky source of phthalate emissions, according to the press release. The researchers stated that vinyl mattress covers used in babies’ cribs can cause potentially high phthalate exposure at expected temperatures.
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