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Study finds toxic chemicals in pregnant womens' bodies | News

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Study finds toxic chemicals in pregnant womens' bodies

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - Pregnant women take elaborate steps to protect their babies' health, following doctors' orders to avoid alcohol, caffeine, tobacco - even soft cheeses and deli meats.

In spite of these efforts, a new study shows the typical pregnant woman has dozens of potentially toxic or even cancer-causing chemicals in her body - including ingredients found in flame retardants and rocket fuel.

Almost all 268 women studied had detectable levels of eight types of chemicals in their blood or urine, finds the study, published in today's Environmental Health Perspectives. It analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These chemicals include certain pesticides, flame retardants, PFCs used in non-stick cookware, phthalates (in many fragrances and plastics), pollution from car exhaust, perchlorate (in rocket fuel) and PCBs, toxic industrial chemicals banned in 1979 that persist in the environment.

Many of these chemicals pass through the placenta and can concentrate in the fetus, says lead author Tracey Woodruff, director of the University of California-San Francisco Program on Reproductive Health and Environment.

Other researchers have discovered some of these chemicals in babies' umbilical cords, Woodruff says.

Some of the chemicals detected in the study have been linked to health problems in other studies.

For example, the Food and Drug Administration has expressed "some concern" that BPA - an estrogen-like ingredient in plastic found in 96% of pregnant women - affects the development of the brain, prostate and behavior in children exposed both before and after birth. Lead and mercury are known to cause brain damage.

Join local moms who are talking about this story on MomsLikeMe.

The study tested for 163 chemicals. So, as disturbing as the findings are, the study may actually underestimate the number of chemicals circulating through women's bodies, says Sarah Janssen, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group. She's concerned that some of these chemicals may act together to cause more damage than they would alone.

The American Chemistry Council, an industry group, says the findings aren't a cause for concern.

"As part of daily life, our bodies naturally absorb organic and man-made chemicals from our environments, and analytical advances now allow researchers to measure exceedingly minute traces of such substances," spokesman Scott Jensen says. Even the CDC notes that the "mere presence of a chemical in the body does not mean that it will cause effects or disease," he says.

Woodruff says she doesn't want to scare pregnant women but Congress may need to pass tougher environmental laws to reduce their exposure.

The study should be a "call to action" to overhaul the main law that regulates chemicals, the Toxic Substances Control Act, which hasn't been updated since 1976, says Andy Igrejas, national campaign director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, an advocacy group. Bills to update that law were introduced last year in both houses of Congress.

By Liz Szabo, USA TODAY


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