Does your son play with dolls? Could just be his charming personality, or it could be something in the water.
A team of scientists has found that chemicals commonly found in some plastics can make boys more like girls.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Rochester, showed that two types of phthalates can affect boys play behavior. Boys with high levels of exposure were less likely to choose traditionally “boyish” toys like cars, and less rough-and-tumble in their play.
Elizabeth Salter-Green, head of the British group CHEMTrust, called the chemicls “true gender benders”, and said parents should be concerned about the impact on their kids.
Phthalates have long been known to mimic human hormones, particularly estrogen, but impacts on people exposed to them have been hard to pin down. A study last year by this same research group showed that male babies exposed to high levels of phthalates during gestation are more likely to be born with genital abnormalities than their less-exposed peers.
The two phthalates implicated in this study are DEHP and DBP. Both were outlawed in children’s toys and baby products sold in the U.S. as of February 2009. Older children’s toys (think, last year’s Christmas gifts) may still contain these chemicals. These chemicals also continue to be common in household products that kids use, like plastic dishware.
How to spot phthalates in your products? They’re not always clearly labeled, to put it mildly. Phthalates are a softening agent, added to plastics to make them flexible. If a product or toy is flexible or stretchy, and is not made of silicone, it probably has some chemical softener in it. Products will often tout their “phthalate-free” status when they’re using a different process to soften their plastics.
Boys preferring dolls to cars is certainly not a bad thing. But a chemically induced gender shift seems a little creepy, to put it mildly.