New alert over gender bending chemicals By Mark Prigg Science Correspondent, Evening Standard A new health alert over chemicals used in make-up, shampoo and soaps is issued today. Experts say products containing the chemicals - called phthalates - could cause women to give birth to boys with female characteristics. Their research found shrunken genitals and less masculine behaviour in babies. Phthalates help to give cosmetics colour and bond perfume molecules. They are also used in pliable plastics such as clingfilm, kidney dialysis tubes, blood bags and even children's toys. "This is a very big problem," said study leader Professor Shanna Swan, of the University of Rochester. The research, to be published-next month in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found 90 per cent of babies exposed to high levels of the chemicals in the womb exhibited "more female physical traits". Professor Swan said: "We need to eradicate these chemicals. But it is rather like taking lead out of petrol - a slow process." The study of 134 boys found a range of problems including shrunken genitalia and undescended testicles. They believe the effects could be permanent, although this needs to be confirmed over time. Professor Swan urged manufacturers to reveal which of their products contain phthalates - previously supposed not to be harmful - as a matter of urgency. "I would urge people to write and ask for that information," she said. "The problem for consumers is at the moment we just don't know where this chemical will show up." Andreas Kortenkamp, an expert in environmental pollutants at the London School of Pharmacy, said: "If it's true, it's sensational. This is the first time anyone's shown this effect in humans." He added: "These are mass chemicals. They are used in any plastic that is pliable. Sorting this out is going to be an interesting challenge for industry as well as society." A spokesman for the European Council for Plasticisers and Intermediates said reproductive effects had been seen in rats and mice only at levels of exposure "many times higher than those experienced by humans".