Asthma in inner-city children at 5-11 years of age and prenatal exposure to phthalates: the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health Cohort

Environ Health Perspect. 2014 Oct;122(10):1141-6. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1307670. Epub 2014 Sep 17.


Background: Studies suggest that phthalate exposures may adversely affect child respiratory health.

Objectives: We evaluated associations between asthma diagnosed in children between 5 and 11 years of age and prenatal exposures to butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP), di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP), di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), and diethyl phthalate (DEP).

Methods: Phthalate metabolites were measured in spot urine collected from 300 pregnant inner-city women. Children were examined by an allergist or pulmonologist based on the first parental report of wheeze, other respiratory symptoms, and/or use of asthma rescue/controller medication in the preceding 12 months on repeat follow-up questionnaires. Standardized diagnostic criteria were used to classify these children as either having or not having current asthma at the time of the physician examination. Children without any report of wheeze or the other asthma-like symptoms were classified as nonasthmatics at the time of the last negative questionnaire. Modified Poisson regression analyses were used to estimate relative risks (RR) controlling for specific gravity and potential confounders.

Results: Of 300 children, 154 (51%) were examined by a physician because of reports of wheeze, other asthma-like symptoms, and/or medication use; 94 were diagnosed with current asthma and 60 without current asthma. The remaining 146 children were classified as nonasthmatic. Compared with levels in nonasthmatics, prenatal metabolites of BBzP and DnBP were associated with a history of asthma-like symptoms (p < 0.05) and with the diagnosis of current asthma: RR = 1.17 (95% CI: 1.01, 1.35) and RR = 1.25 (95% CI: 1.04, 1.51) per natural log-unit increase, respectively. Risk of current asthma was > 70% higher among children with maternal prenatal BBzP and DnBP metabolite concentrations in the third versus the first tertile.

Conclusion: Prenatal exposure to BBzP and DnBP may increase the risk of asthma among inner-city children. However, because this is the first such finding, results require replication.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asthma / chemically induced
  • Asthma / epidemiology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Pollutants / adverse effects
  • Environmental Pollutants / urine*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • New York / epidemiology
  • Phthalic Acids / adverse effects
  • Phthalic Acids / urine*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Sounds
  • Urban Health


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Phthalic Acids