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Study Shows Toxic Chemicals in Newborns

But Chemical Manufacturers Say It's Not an Indication of Health Risk
By
WebMD Health News

July 14, 2005 -- Hundreds of toxins, including industrial chemicals, pesticides, and other pollutants may be contaminating some U.S. newborns, according to a small study.

In a study of newborn blood released by the Environmental Working Group, an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants were found in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies.

The babies were born in August and September of 2004 in U.S. hospitals. The newborns' blood was collected after the umbilical cord was cut, according to the EWG, which may indicate that the infants were exposed to the compounds while still in the womb.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers, released a statement saying that the information in Thursday's report was not new.

"Scientists have long understood that our bodies can absorb substances present in our environment," the statement says. "The measurements by themselves are not an indication of a health risk and should not be cause for alarm," the group says.

Researchers randomly tested cord blood anonymously donated to the Red Cross. They did not pinpoint where in the U.S. the exposures occurred.

Environmental activists are taking the study as evidence that hundreds of common industrial chemicals -- some of them never before detected in newborns -- can pass from mothers to fetuses.

"This study represents the first reported cord blood tests for 261 of the targeted chemicals and the first reported detections in cord blood for 209 compounds." they write in their report.

Chemicals and Public Policy

The study's release was timed to coincide with the introduction of a bill on Capitol Hill designed to force manufacturers to test the safety of chemicals before putting them on the market. The measure would also require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine the safety of 300 industrial chemicals within the next five years.

"It's not a definitive measure of pollution in newborns, but we think it should spur public health researchers and spur policy makers," says Timothy Kropp, PhD, senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group.

Tests uncovered an average of 200 different chemicals in each cord blood sample, including a wide variety of pesticides, fire retardants, and industrial coatings used in electrical insulation, carpets, furniture, and other products.

"We don't know what safe levels are for many of them. We must know more before chemicals end up in children," Kropp says.

Eighteen different forms of dioxin were also found in the samples, according to the report.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer designated dioxin as a "known human carcinogen" in 1997, though very low levels of exposure are believed not to cause tumors in humans, according to the World Health Organization.

A Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday concluded that manufacturers have provided the EPA with health and safety data on only 15% of industrial chemicals sold in the U.S. in the last three decades.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) told reporters Thursday that she was one of several who anonymously donated blood for a continuation of the analysis. More than 270 toxic chemicals were found in her blood, said Slaughter, who is 75 years old.

"I'm a walking chemical plant. That's hardly the picture of health I had hoped for," she said.

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