Prenatal exposure to phthalates and emotional/behavioral development in young children

Liron Cohen-Eliraz, Asher Ornoy, Eliana Ein-Mor, Moriah Bar-Nitsan, Tammy Pilowsky Peleg, Ronit Calderon-Margalit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Introduction: Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) such as phthalates, found in our daily environment, are nowadays suggested to be associated with adverse outcomes. Prenatal exposure was found associated with neurodevelopmental complications such as behavioral difficulties in school age children. Aim: To explore the association between intrauterine exposure to phthalates and emotional/behavioral development of 24 months old toddlers. Methods: Women were recruited at 11–18 weeks of gestation and provided spot urine samples, analyzed for phthalate metabolites (DEHP, DiNP, MBzBP). Offspring were examined at 24 months of age, using standard maternal report, regarding developmental and behavioral problems (CBCL, ASQ-3, HOME questionnaires) (N = 158). To explore the associations between metabolite levels and developmental outcomes, multivariate GLM analysis (General Linear Model) was used according to tertiles and developmental scores on each developmental outcome. Results: Associations of Di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) maternal exposure with behavioral-developmental outcomes were found only in boys. Compared with boys with lower DEHP maternal exposure, boys with high DEHP maternal exposure had lower developmental score in personal social abilities in the ASQ-3 questionnaire (50.68 + 8.06 and 44.14 + 11.02, high and low DEHP, respectively, p = 0.03), and more internalizing problems (for example, emotionally reactive score in high and low DEHP: 53.77 + 7.41 and 50.50 + 1.19, respectively, p = 0.029; anxious or depressed score: 53.38 + 5.01 and 50.75 + 1.34, respectively, p = 0.009; and somatic complaints scores 64.03 + 10.1 and 55.84 + 7.84, respectively, p = 0.003), and externalizing problems (49.28 + 8.59 and 43.33 + 9.11, respectively, p = 0.039). No differences were found in the development and behavior problems between high and low DEHP maternal exposure level in girls. Conclusion: Maternal DEHP metabolite concentrations measured in first trimester urine was associated with children's emotional/behavioral developmental problems in 24-months old boys, supporting accumulating evidence of DEHP as a potentially harming chemical and call for environmental attention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-47
Number of pages9
StatePublished - Sep 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • DEHP
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Pesticides
  • Phthalates
  • Pregnancy


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