It’s now known that heavy metal pollution of the kind emitted by cars and power plants leads to autism in babies born with a genetic sensitivity to it. This is going to create a huge groundswell in the US for cleaning up emissions of dangerous gases. Now a common chemical compound used in the manufacture of beauty products has been linked to the auto-immune disease lupus in people who have a genetic predispostion to this.

Male babies born to women who use beauty products containing phthalates often have smaller genitals. When researchers injected mice with phthalates, they found the injections triggered lupus, which leads to a considerably shortened lifespan in mice that have a genetic disposition to the disease but not in mice that are not pre-disposed to the illness.

“Our findings clearly show that lupus can be caused by an environmental factor like phthalate, which is present in toys, in many other plastic products, including PVC pipes and medical devices, and in beauty products,” says researcher Swapan K. Ghosh. In lupus, the immune system attacks its own body?s tissues as though they are foreign substances. The disease can lead to problems with kidneys, the heart, lungs or blood cells.

“Phthalate is used?in cosmetics and lupus type auto-immunity is five times more common in women than in men,” says co-researcher So-Yon Lim. “Is that because women use a lot more cosmetics and perfumes than men?”

Given the widespread use of phthalates, more extensive research is needed. Ghosh says, “We want to find out whether this really is a matter of great potential health hazard or whether it is something that could be moderated.” At the very least, genetic testing might one day be required for workers in the plastics industry.

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