Multiple chemicals, including some banned since the 1970s and others used in items such as nonstick cookware, furniture, processed foods and beauty products, were found in the blood and urine of pregnant U.S. women, according to a UCSF study being released today.
Of the 163 chemicals studied, 43 of them were found in virtually all 268 pregnant women in the study. They included polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, a prohibited chemical linked to cancer and other health problems; organochlorine pesticides; polybrominated diphenyl ethers, banned compounds used as flame retardants; and phthalates, which are shown to cause hormone disruption.
Some of these chemicals were banned before many of the women were even born.
The presence of the chemicals in the women, who ranged in age from 15 to 44, shows the ability of these substances to endure in the environment and in human bodies as well, said lead author Tracey Woodruff, director of the UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment...
Bisphenol A, a chemical used in cans and other food packaging that has been linked to health problems including brain development, was found in 96 percent of the women. A broken-down form of DDT, a pesticide banned in the United States in 1972, was found in virtually all the women.
Although some flame retardants were banned from clothing in the 1970s, Blum said, similar retardants were used in other consumer goods such as the foam in furniture, the plastic around television sets and even baby products. She blamed much of the ubiquitousness of the chemicals on California's strict flammability laws, which are often modeled by other states.
Dr. Sarah Janssen, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco, said the levels of exposure shown in the study were low, but she was concerned about fetal harm that could be caused by the mother's exposure to multiple chemicals acting together.
"The study's results show that unborn babies are exposed to a soup of chemicals - 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," she said.
While it is impossible to completely avoid exposure, here are some suggestions from health experts on reducing exposure to some harmful chemicals:
Eating: Eat a well-balanced diet, wash hands often and do not smoke. This will help maintain overall health and reduce some of the effects of harmful chemicals.
Microwaving: Avoid microwaving food in plastic. Use ceramic or glass instead.
Cleaning: Keep a clean home. Toxic chemicals are present in household dust and dirt.
Shopping: Choose products wisely - everything from paints, cleaning supplies to cookware and beauty products. Select safer, nontoxic products.
Source: UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment