Di-(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), the most commonly used plasticizer in flexible polyvinylchloride formulations, is a ubiquitous environmental contaminant. To date, no information exists on the potential health hazards from exposure to DEHP and/or its main metabolite, mono-(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (MEHP), in high-risk conditions, such as pregnancy and during the neonatal period. The aim of this study was to evaluate prenatal exposure to DEHP and/or MEHP and its possible biologic effects. We measured serum DEHP and MEHP concentrations in the cord blood of 84 consecutive newborns by high-performance liquid chromatography. Relationships between DEHP/MEHP and infant characteristics were tested using Fisher's exact test, unpaired t-tests, and univariate linear regression analyses, and significant differences on univariate analysis were evaluated using multiple logistic regression analysis. We found detectable cord blood DEHP and/or MEHP concentrations in 88.1% of the samples. Either DEHP or MEHP was present in 65 of 84 (77.4%) of the examined samples. Mean concentrations of DEHP and MEHP were 1.19 +/- 1.15 microg/mL [95% confidence interval (CI), 0.93-1.44, range = 0-4.71] and 0.52 +/- 0.61 microg/mL (95% CI, 0.39-0.66, range = 0-2.94), respectively. MEHP-positive newborns showed a significantly lower gestational age compared with MEHP-negative infants (p = 0.033). Logistic regression analysis results indicated a positive correlation between absence of MEHP in cord blood and gestational age at delivery (odds ratio = 1.50, 95% CI, 1.013-2.21; p = 0.043). These findings confirm that human exposure to DEHP can begin in utero and suggest that phthalate exposure is significantly associated with a shorter pregnancy duration.