Research Grants/Fellowships/SBIR

Exposure to Phthalate Mixtures and Inner-City Pediatric Asthma

EPA Grant Number: FP917120
Title: Exposure to Phthalate Mixtures and Inner-City Pediatric Asthma
Investigators: Just, Allan Carpenter
Institution: Columbia University in the City of New York
EPA Project Officer: Boddie, Georgette
Project Period: September 1, 2010 through August 31, 2013
Project Amount: $111,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2010) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Human Health: Public Health Sciences



Phthalates are used as additives in plastic with widespread exposure and potential associations with allergy and asthma in children. Although the general population is continually exposed to a complex mixture of toxicants, epidemiologic studies quantifying the risks posed by these chemicals are often focused on one chemical at a time. This research project seeks to identify whether mixtures of phthalates contribute to the development of asthma or allergy or effect lung function and inflammation in school aged children.


Phthalates are common additives in plastics with nearly ubiquitous exposure to many different phthalates among the general population, including pregnant women and children. This epidemiologic research will apply novel statistical methods to measure the association between simultaneous exposure to mixtures of phthalates in early life with the development of asthma and allergy in a cohort of inner-city school aged children followed since pregnancy.


The research will focus on an analysis of data from 400 inner-city children collected as part of an ongoing prospective birth cohort. Exposure measures will utilize repeated measures of phthalate urinary metabolites starting in the prenatal period and at an early school age as well as an indoor air sample collection coordinated at the same early school age. Measures of allergy and asthma will include a physician’s evaluation, concentration of specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) in blood samples, and measures of pediatric lung function and inflammation. Epidemiologic modeling approaches will be expanded to consider multiple correlated phthalate exposures by utilizing hierarchical Bayesian regression to stabilize variance estimates.

Expected Results:

With prospectively collected data on exposure to phthalates, we believe this research will be able to more carefully examine the potential of early life exposure to phthalates to contribute to the already high burden of allergy and asthma in an inner city cohort than has been previously possible. Because of the strength of the outcome measures, this research also may be able to point to components of pediatric asthma and allergy affected by these common exposures for additional study. The application of hierarchical modeling may lead to better methods for characterizing effects of multiple exposures in epidemiologic studies that improve upon previous conventions of considering each exposure separately.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection:

This research may help elucidate how common exposures to a set of environmental pollutants, the phthalates, contribute to rising burdens of pediatric allergy and asthma. In addition, methodologies explored in these analyses may be broadly applicable to other epidemiologic models where exposures to many correlated environmental pollutants exist.

Supplemental Keywords:

asthma, children’s environmental health, phthalates, DEHP, endocrine disrupting compounds, Bayesian analysis, hierarchical model,