— Not long ago, scientists believed that babies in the womb were
largely protected from most toxic chemicals. A new study helps confirm
an opposite view: that chemical exposure begins in the womb, as
hundreds of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides are pumped
back and forth from mother to baby through umbilical cord blood.
Environmental Working Group (EWG)
commissioned laboratory tests of 10 American Red Cross cord blood
samples for the most extensive array of industrial chemicals,
pesticides and other pollutants ever studied. The group found that the
babies averaged 200 contaminants in their blood. The pollutants
included mercury, fire retardants, pesticides and the Teflon chemical
PFOA. In total, the babies' blood had 287 chemicals, including 209
never before detected in cord blood.
The blood samples came from babies born in
U.S. hospitals in August and September of 2004. The study, called Body
Burden: The Pollution in Newborns, tested each sample of umbilical cord
blood for an unprecedented 413 industrial and consumer product
chemicals. The study (www.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden2/) is part of an important new science that measures toxins in people — the human body burden.
"For years scientists have studied
pollution in the air, water, land and in our food. Recently they've
investigated its health impacts on adults. Now we find this pollution
is reaching babies during vital stages of development," said EWG Vice
President for Research Jane Houlihan. "These findings raise questions
about the gaps in our federal safety net. Instead of rubber-stamping
almost every new chemical that industry invents, we've got to
strengthen and modernize the laws that are supposed to protect
Americans from pollutants."
U.S. industries manufacture and import
approximately 75,000 chemicals, 3,000 of them at over a million pounds
per year. Yet health officials do not know how many of these chemicals
pollute fetal blood and what the health consequences of in utero
exposures might be. Many of these chemicals require specialized
techniques to detect. Chemical manufacturers are not required to make
available to the public or government health officials methods to
detect their chemicals in humans, and most do not volunteer them.
EWG's Houlihan said that had her group been able to test for more chemicals, it would almost certainly have detected them.
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