Associations between mixtures of urinary phthalate metabolites with gestational age at delivery: a time to event analysis using summative phthalate risk scores

Environ Health. 2018 Jun 20;17(1):56. doi: 10.1186/s12940-018-0400-3.


Background: Preterm birth is a significant public health concern and exposure to phthalates has been shown to be associated with an increased odds of preterm birth. Even modest reductions in gestational age at delivery could entail morbid consequences for the neonate and analyzing data with this additional information may be useful. In the present analysis, we consider gestational age at delivery as our outcome of interest and examine associations with multiple phthalates.

Methods: Women were recruited early in pregnancy as part of a prospective, longitudinal birth cohort at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Urine samples were collected at up to four time points during gestation for urinary phthalate metabolite measurement, and birth outcomes were recorded at delivery. From this population, we selected all 130 cases of preterm birth (< 37 weeks of gestation) as well as 352 random controls. We conducted analysis with both geometric average of the exposure concentrations across the first three visits as well as using repeated measures of the exposure. Two different time to event models were used to examine associations between nine urinary phthalate metabolite concentrations and time to delivery. Two different approaches to constructing a summative phthalate risk score were also considered.

Results: The single-pollutant analysis using a Cox proportional hazards model showed the strongest association with a hazard ratio (HR) of 1.21 (95% confidence interval (CI): 1.09, 1.33) per interquartile range (IQR) change in average log-transformed mono-2-ethyl-5-carboxypentyl phthalate (MECPP) concentration. Using the accelerated failure time model, we observed a 1.19% (95% CI: 0.26, 2.11%) decrease in gestational age in association with an IQR change in average log-transformed MECPP. We next examined associations with an environmental risk score (ERS). The fourth quartile of ERS was significantly associated with a HR of 1.44 (95% CI: 1.19, 1.75) and a reduction of 2.55% (95% CI: 0.76, 4.30%) in time to delivery (in days) compared to the first quartile.

Conclusions: On average, pregnant women with higher urinary metabolite concentrations of individual phthalates have shorter time to delivery. The strength of the observed associations are amplified with the risk scores when compared to individual pollutants.

Keywords: Environmental risk score; Hazard ratio; Mixtures; Phthalate; Pregnancy; Time to delivery.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Boston
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism
  • Environmental Pollutants / urine*
  • Female
  • Gestational Age*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Middle Aged
  • Phthalic Acids / metabolism
  • Phthalic Acids / urine*
  • Pregnancy
  • Young Adult


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Phthalic Acids