(HealthDay News) — Exposure in the womb to household chemicals known as phthalates might increase a child’s future risk of developing asthma, according to research published online September 17 in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Researchers took urine samples from 300 pregnant inner-city women who tested positive for phthalate exposure. The women were black or Dominican and lived in northern Manhattan or the South Bronx in New York City. The researchers then followed the health of the children born to these women for up to 11 years, to see if any would develop asthma. They also took urine samples from the children at ages 3, 5, and 7 to track their ongoing exposure to phthalates.

Nearly one out of three children born to these mothers developed asthma, the researchers reported. They concluded that exposure in the womb to butylbenzyl phthalate caused a 72% increased risk of developing childhood asthma, while exposure to di-n-butyl phthalate caused a 78% increased risk. The researchers also found that exposure to phthalates following birth appeared to contribute to breathing problems other than asthma.

“The prenatal period tends to be when the child is most vulnerable, and in our study we did see a significant increase in asthma risk with prenatal exposure,” lead author Robin Whyatt, DrPh, a professor of environmental health sciences, told HealthDay. “This is the first study to look at the association between prenatal exposure and whether that was a risk factor for the child becoming asthmatic,” added Whyatt, who’s also co-deputy director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health.

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