Predictors with regard to ingestion, inhalation and dermal absorption of estimated phthalate daily intakes in pregnant women: The Barwon infant study

the Barwon Infant Study Investigator Group

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Human exposure to phthalate chemicals, used in consumer product plastics, occurs throughout the day. Phthalate levels in pregnant women are associated with offspring health effects including obesity and neurodevelopmental problems. Knowledge of predictors of exposure is necessary in order to effectively reduce phthalate exposure. The present study aims to identify predictors of phthalate levels in Australian pregnant women from the Barwon Infant study birth cohort. Maternal urine samples from 841 women were analyzed for phthalate metabolites. Maternal diet and food preparation practices, use of volatile household products, household characteristics and personal care product use were assessed with questionnaires. All maternal urine contained phthalate metabolites. Maternal prenatal high-fat milk consumption was associated with higher benzyl butyl phthalate (BBzP) (p < 0.001), and bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) (p = 0.0023). Higher phthalate levels were associated with consumption of tinned food (fish and tomatoes). Diethyl phthalate (DEP) levels were significantly higher when women reported using air freshener (35% increase, p = 0.01), aerosols (40% increase, p = 0.005), hair treatment chemicals (28% increase, p = 0.031), and chlorine (34% increase, p = 0.009) compared to no use. Maternal phthalate levels did not vary by reported plastic avoidance during pregnancy. The study showed that phthalate exposure is ubiquitous and increased by multiple factors. Future intervention studies to reduce phthalate levels among pregnant women will need to take into account the variety of sources identified in this study.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105700
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironment International
Early online date28 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


We thank the BIS participants for the generous contribution they have made to this project. We also thank current and past staff for their efforts in recruiting and maintaining the cohort and in obtaining and processing the data and biospecimens. The establishment work and infrastructure for the BIS was provided by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Deakin University and Barwon Health. Subsequent funding was secured from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia , The Shepherd Foundation , The Jack Brockhoff Foundation , the Scobie Trust , the Shane O’Brien Memorial Asthma Foundation , the Our Women’s Our Children’s Fund Raising Committee Barwon Health , the Rotary Club of Geelong , the Ilhan Food Allergy Foundation , GMHBA Ltd , The Gandel Foundation , The Percy Baxter Charitable Trust , Perpetual Trustees and the Gwenyth Raymond Trust . Vanguard Investments Australia Ltd provided funding for analysis of plasticisers in biospecimens. In-kind support was provided by the Cotton on Foundation and CreativeForce. Research at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute is supported by the Victorian Government's Operational Infrastructure Support Program. A-L. Ponsonby, P. Vuillermin, D. Burgner, V. Anderson and P. Sly receive NHMRC fellowship support. C. Symeonides was supported by a NHMRC PhD scholarship. The BIS Investigator Group includes David Burgner, John Carlin, Len Harrison, Sarath Ranganathan, Mimi Tang and Terry Dwyer. This project partly received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 – the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Grant agreement No 734522 .

FundersFunder number
Barwon Health
Cotton on Foundation
European Union's Horizon 2020 ?
Our Women's Our Children's Fund Raising Committee Barwon Health
Our Women’s Our Children’s Fund Raising Committee Barwon Health
Percy Baxter Charitable Trust
Rotary Club of Geelong
Scobie Trust
Shane O'Brien Memorial Asthma Foundation
Shane O’Brien Memorial Asthma Foundation
Shepherd Foundation
Rotary Club of Eureka
Horizon 2020 Framework Programme734522
Jack Brockhoff Foundation
Murdoch Children's Research Institute
National Health and Medical Research Council
Deakin University
Ilhan Food Allergy Foundation
State Government of Victoria
Bank for International Settlements
Percy Baxter Charitable Trust
Shepherd Foundation


    • Daily intake
    • Exposure predictors
    • Maternal diet
    • Phthalate exposure
    • Pregnant women
    • Volatile product use


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