Study Shows Toxic Chemicals in Newborns
But Chemical Manufacturers Say It's Not an Indication of Health Risk
WebMD News Archive
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
"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
"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
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
"I'm a walking chemical plant. That's hardly the picture of health I had
hoped for," she said.