Prenatal Exposure to toxic chemicals

A new study commissioned by the US EWG (Environmental Working Group) shows that babies in the womb are exposed to hundreds of
dangerous chemicals.

The researchers analysed umbilical cord blood taken from 10 babies born in August and September 2004 in US hospitals. The tests revealed a total of 287 chemicals in the group. The umbilical cord blood of these 10 children, collected after the cord was cut, harboured pesticides, consumer product ingredients, wastes from burning coal, gasoline and garbage. Of these chemicals, it is known that 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development. Among the chemicals found in cord blood were mercury, fire retardants and the Teflon constituent PFOA.

The danger of pre- or post- natal exposure to this complex mixture of carcinogens, developmental toxins and neurotoxins, has never been studied. Such chemicals are likely to be far more dangerous to a foetus or developing child than to an adult, because children’s exposures are far greater on a pound-for-pound basis; the immature blood-brain barrier of infants allows greater exposure; children have lower levels of proteins that can bind with toxins and remove them from the body; and babies’ systems are rapidly developing and thus more vulnerable to damage.

Not long ago scientists thought that the placenta shielded cord blood – and the developing baby – from most chemicals and pollutants in the environment, but now we know that at this critical time when organs, vessels, membranes and systems are knitting together from single cells to finished form in a span of weeks, the umbilical cord carries not only the building blocks of life, but also a steady stream of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides that cross the placenta as readily as residues from cigarettes and alcohol.

Houlihan J et al. Report of Environmnetal Working Group, July 2005

Frst Published in July 2006


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