The contamination of a clouding agent with di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), a substitute emulsifier-containing compound used in a variety of foods was announced on May 23, 2011. The aims of this study were as follows (1) compare the urine phthalates (PAE) metabolites concentration and estimate the daily intake (DI) of PAEs in pregnant women before and after the tainted food scandal and (2) examine the effect of relatively high PAEs exposure on birth outcome. One-hundred twelve pregnant women in Northern Taiwan participated in this study from March to December 2010, i.e., before the tainted food scandal. After the tainted food scandal, we collected 69, 73, and 180 urine specimens (January 2013 to August 2014) from women whom were in their first, second, and third trimesters of pregnancy, respectively. We measure urinary DEHP metabolite concentrations to estimate the DI of DEHP and the hazard quotient (HQ) of subjects. This was the first study to assess the effects of DEHP-tainted food scandal exposure in pregnant women across the three trimesters of pregnancy. After the tainted food report, the concentrations of urine PAE metabolite were significantly decreased, especially those of DEHP metabolites. Based on different reference limit values, the percentages of pregnant women whose HQ DEHP value exceeded the limit ranged from 0.53% to 8.93%. Despite this low frequency, the higher ΣPAE exposure during the second trimester may significantly increase the risk of relatively low birth height compared to the lower exposure group (β = − 0.63 (− 1.20 to − 0.06)). Our results support the hypothesis that exposure to relatively high concentrations of DEHP in pregnant Taiwanese women may have an adverse effect on birth outcomes. The percentage of subjects whose exposure level exceeded the exposure limit was low; however, high PAEs exposure appears to be significantly associated with birth outcomes. Therefore, we suggest that reference dose for PAEs should be revised.
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