A longitudinal study of urinary phthalate excretion in 58 full-term and 67 preterm infants from birth through 14 months

Environ Health Perspect. 2014 Sep;122(9):998-1005. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1307569. Epub 2014 May 30.


Background: Some phthalates have shown antiandrogenic effects in rat offspring. Premature infants may be exposed to high amounts of specific phthalates during hospitalization, and thus are potentially at risk.

Objective: We evaluated longitudinal phthalate exposure and metabolism in full-term (FT) and preterm (PT) infants.

Methods: Fifty-eight FT and 67 PT (gestational age, 24.7-36.6 weeks) infants were recruited at birth and followed until 14 months (nine times). Urinary concentrations of metabolites of diethyl phthalate (DEP), dibutyl phthalate isomers (DiBP and DnBP), butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP), di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), and diisononyl phthalate (DiNP) were measured in 894 samples. Daily intake and a hazard index for antiandrogenic effects were estimated, and excretion patterns of DEHP and DiNP metabolites were analyzed.

Results: Metabolites of BBzP, DiNP, and DEHP were 5-50 times higher at day 7 (D7) and month 1 (M1) in PT than in FT infants. Thereafter, metabolite concentrations were similar between the two groups. The estimated hazard index for combined DiBP, DnBP, BBzP, and DEHP exposures 7 days after birth exceeded the antiandrogenic threshold in > 80% of PT and > 30% of FT infants, and after M2, in 30% of all infants. The excretion pattern of DEHP and DiNP metabolites changed with age.

Conclusion: Most PT infants and approximately one-third of healthy FT newborns were exposed to phthalates during early life at a potentially harmful level according to the European Food Safety Authority's recommended limits of daily exposure. Changes in the relative proportions of secondary phthalate metabolites over time were consistent with maturation of infant metabolic pathways during the first year of life. Further research is needed on the health effects of phthalate exposures and the influence of changes in metabolic capacity in neonates and infants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism
  • Environmental Pollutants / urine*
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / metabolism
  • Infant, Premature / urine*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Phthalic Acids / metabolism
  • Phthalic Acids / urine*
  • Plasticizers / metabolism


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Phthalic Acids
  • Plasticizers