(HealthDay News) — Boys born to mothers with greater exposure to the chemical di-isononyl phthalate (DiNP) may have a shorter anogenital distance, according to a new study. The researchers said their findings, published online October 29 in Environmental Health Perspectives, add to concerns about the possible effects of certain plasticizers on the male reproductive system.

Shanna Swan, PhD, a professor of preventive medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, and colleagues measured the anogenital distance in 196 Swedish boys, who were 21 months old, on average. They also analyzed urine samples taken from the boys’ mothers during the first trimester of pregnancy – looking for the metabolic byproducts of 10 different phthalates. In general, the researchers found, the higher moms’ phthalate levels were, the shorter their babies’ anogenital distance. The link was strongest when it came to DiNP levels.

Swan told HealthDay that shorter distance has been linked to lower fertility in adult men – though the reasons for the connection are unclear. And, she noted, “the $64,000 question” is whether baby boys with a shorter anogenital distance maintain that characteristic throughout life. The other big question is whether phthalates are the true reason for the current findings. “Could it be other chemicals in the environment, or factors other than manmade chemicals?” For people who want to limit their phthalate exposure, Swan suggested eating fewer processed foods and more “whole” foods. She said they can also avoid storing and microwaving foods in recyclable plastic containers.

The American Chemistry Council disputed the idea that any type of phthalate, at the public’s typical exposure levels, has ill health effects. “Phthalates have been thoroughly studied and reviewed by a number of government scientific agencies and regulatory bodies worldwide, and these agencies have concluded that phthalates used in commercial products do not pose a risk to human health at typical exposure levels,” the group said in a written statement.

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