I have asthma.   Just like millions of other Americans.

That’s why I was upset when only a week after we released our new report that found high levels of phthalates in children’s vinyl back-to-school supplies, researchers at Columbia University published a major new study linking phthalates to asthma in NYC children.

“While many factors contribute to childhood asthma, our study shows that exposure to phthalates may play a significant role,” says Allan Just, PhD, first author on the new Center study and current postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Phthalates are chemicals used to soften vinyl plastic, chemicals manufactured by big corporations like Exxon Mobil.

Phthalates in Harlem and Bronx children.

In the study, researchers found phthalates in the bodies of every single one of the 244 school-aged children in the study, ages 5 to 9. Every single one!  Do you believe that?!

All of the children live in Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx, where the rates of asthma are high.

Higher levels of two different phthalates were associated with higher levels of nitric oxide in exhaled breath, which apparently is a biological marker of airway inflammation. They also found phthalate exposure and airway inflammation was especially strong among children who had recently reported wheeze, a common symptom of asthma.

One of the phthalates they investigated, butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP), is commonly used to soften vinyl flooring in NYC schools and others across the country.

Not the first, and probably not the last.

In recent years, a number of other studies have found a correlation between phthalates emitted from vinyl products and asthma. A few highlights:

  • A study published in 2009 found a statistically significant link between PVC flooring and asthma.
  • A 2008 study found an association between concentrations of phthalates in indoor dust and wheezing among preschool children.  The presence of PVC flooring in the child’s bedroom was the strongest predictor of respiratory ailments.
  • A study of 10,851 children found the presence of floor moisture and PVC significantly increased the risk of asthma.
  • A study of adults working in rooms with plastic wall covering materials were more than twice as likely to develop asthma.

Asthma on the rise.

The new research comes at a time when asthma has been skyrocketing in our communities.

In the last decade, the proportion of people with asthma in the United States grew by nearly 15%. 

Today, one out of every 11 school-age children has asthma. In fact, asthma is a leading cause of school absenteeism: 10.5 million school days are missed each year due to asthma.  About 9 people die from asthma each day.

Additionally, asthma costs the United States $56 billion each year.  That’s right. 56  B-I-L-L-I-O-N.

What can we do?

We know phthalates have been linked to asthma, not to mention many other health problems.  We know there are safer alternatives. We don’t need to use vinyl school supplies, flooring and other products in our schools in the first place.  Why take an unnecessary risk with children’s health?

Chemicals that have been linked to asthma have no place in our children’s schools.

Getting these harmful chemicals out of our schools is a common sense precautionary solution.

Don’t you agree?