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Sarah Janssen’s Blog

Pregnant women are carrying a lot more than just a new baby.

Sarah Janssen

Posted January 14, 2011

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January is National Birth Defects Prevention month and while we have made great strides in raising awareness about the importance of folate and prenatal vitamins in early pregnancy, there are a number of birth defects which continue to rise which have been suspected of being caused by exposure to environmental chemicals.

A new study published today confirms that pregnant women carry multiple chemicals in their bodies that can be passed onto their fetus, putting them at risk for birth defects and health problems later in life. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and was published in the scientific journal, Environmental Health Perspectives.

The study evaluated data collected by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2003-2004 on over 250 pregnant women and is the first time the number of chemicals in pregnant women has been counted. Many of the 163 chemicals studied were found in 99 to 100% of pregnant women in the survey and most are known to be transferred to the fetus. The study found many different chemicals in the bodies of all the women tested – things like phthalates, BPA, flame retardants, heavy metals, and even chemicals which have been banned for over 30 years like PCBs.  It’s also worth noting that these women were tested for only a small subset of the chemicals that have been put into production in the U.S.  For the vast majority of chemicals which have been produced, we lack any data about exposure or toxicity.

The levels of chemical exposure shown in the analysis are low, but they are similar to levels which have been linked to harm in earlier studies. Further, many of the chemicals are capable of acting together in mixture to cause greater harm than they would alone. For example, mercury, flame retardants and PCBs have all been linked to neurological damage. Other chemicals like the flame retardants, PBDEs, antimicrobials like triclosan, and a rocket fuel ingredient called perchlorate have been linked to thyroid disruption.

This study adds to the weight of evidence that unborn babies are exposed to a soup of chemicals during vulnerable periods of development --  and furthermore, because the women in the study were tested for exposure to only a fraction of chemicals on the market-- the study also suggests that pregnant women are likely carrying and passing onto their fetuses many more chemicals than have been reported here. This is a broken system and it puts our most vulnerable at risk.

NRDC is a founding member of a coalition that is working to remedy this problem. Join us in calling for stronger regulations and better oversight of chemicals and stay tuned for more information.  

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I need a websiteJan 14 2011 02:51 PM

As a mother of two who is currently pregnant, I feel that pregnant women are bombarded with what to be concerned about during pregnancy – some within your control and some out of your control. Each woman feels a little different about the same issues when they are pregnant, but I think it’s important to focus on the things we can control like nutrition and safe food handling. We put together some tips on both

Judi CunninghamJan 16 2011 11:52 PM

Could these chemicals be the cause of autism? Multiple sclerosis? ADHD? As long as the manufacture of plastics continue, we will be stewing in its by-products. Plastics are made from petroleum. Buying a hybrid or electric car is wonderful, but isn't even the tip of the iceberg in petroleum use.

Dr. James SingmasterJan 19 2011 01:14 AM

Most of the chemicals in Dr. Woodruff's report have been around for many years so that we have already gotten the results of human toxicity tests. Some problems do exist that did not get attention as I detailed in comment 47 of Revkin's Dotearth posting about Woodruff's report also on Jan. 14. It may sound strange, but many of the chemicals reported have been at higher levels in bodies, pregnant or otherwise, since the mid 60s when many of the detected compounds were slopped around. Besides the several uses I mention in the Doteart comment, I found in Ph.D. work at UCDavis 72-5 that some air conditioning filters were coated with phthalates causing the lab to be contaminated. And PCBs were found to coated several major buildings in downtown SF due to use in caulks. The one serious problem with PCBs is mentioned in Dotearth with reports in Oakland, CA of PCBs being part of a sealant used to coat the insides of storage tanks holding treated drinking water.
What needs to be addressed for reducing continuing exposures to several toxics is those unrecognized uses such as the use of the PCB containing sealant in water tanks as the water may be still coming out now contaminated due to the deterioration of sealant. That was what happened in the Oakland incident in reported in1993-4.
And now adding to what I have commented about on Dotearth, Europe, mainly Germany, is having major problems with "dioxin" contamination of food and more. I am not sure from the reports so far whether the notorious 2,3,7,8-TCDD dioxin is involved or some related ones less toxic by a thousand fold or more.
I urge NRDC members to start calling for the pyrolysis process for our organic wastes messes. I have posted numerous comments here and on Dotearth and Green NYTimes blogs on pyrolysis as being the way to get all most all the germs, toxics and drugs in the messes destroyed. I have sent many of the NRDC staff e-mails outlining the making of our massive ever-growing messes of organic wastes including sewage solids into a resource. Dr. J. Singmaster, Fremont, CA

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