Tests find more than 200 chemicals in newborn umbilical cord blood

The Environmental Working Group (a US environmental pressure group) commissioned five laboratories to examine the umbilical cord blood of 10 babies of African-American, Hispanic and Asian heritage and found more than 200 chemicals in each newborn.

Of particular concern were 21 newly detected contaminants, including the controversial plastics additive bisphenol A, or BPA, which mimics estrogen and has been shown to cause developmental problems and precancerous growth in animals. This is the first study to find BPA in umbilical cord blood.

The study was focused on minority children to show that chemical exposure is ubiquitous, building on 2005 research on cord blood from 10 anonymous babies. That study found a similar body burden among the babies. This is the first study to look at chemicals in minority newborns bearing in mind that minority groups may have increased exposure to certain chemicals.

Leo Trasande, co-director of the Children's Environmental Health Center at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, said the findings, while preliminary, show that minority communities are often disproportionately affected by chemical exposure. Trasande was not involved in the EWG study.

‘Minority communities’ he said, ‘suffer from a host of chronic disorders, and disproportionate chemical exposures may contribute significantly to the origins of the disparities that exist.’

Both groups are calling for a revamp the Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, the law regulating the more than 80,000 chemicals on its database. The report was released on the same day that a Senate panel was scheduled to discuss the government's strategy for managing the tens of thousands of chemicals in the marketplace with an eye toward overhauling TSCA.

TSCA does not require most chemicals to be tested for safety before they are approved for widespread use. Because of this less than half of the 3,000 high-production volume chemicals on the marketplace have toxicity data, and less than one-fifth have toxicity testing data on the effects on developing organs.

Another challenge facing chemical regulators is understanding how the different chemicals interact together, which is particularly significant given the number of chemicals found in people.

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First Published in December 2009


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