Vol. 11, No. 3, 2005 Page 5


Unborn babies are exposed to hundreds of hazardous chemicals, according to a new study commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Jane Houlihan and colleagues analyzed umbilical cord blood samples collected from 10 babies born in 2004 in the United States. The researchers report, "Tests revealed a total of 287 chemicals in the group. The umbilical cord blood of these 10 children, collected by Red Cross after the cord was cut, harbored pesticides, consumer product ingredients, and wastes from burning coal, gasoline, and garbage." Of the chemicals they detected, the researchers say, "we know that 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests."

Such chemicals pose a greater danger to a fetus or developing child than to an adult, the researchers say, because:

"Not long ago scientists thought that the placenta shielded cord blood—and the developing baby—from most chemicals and pollutants in the environment," Houlihan et al. say. "But now we know that at this critical time when organs, vessels, membranes and systems are knit together from single cells to finished form in a span of weeks, the umbilical cord carries not only the building blocks of life, but also a steady stream of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides that cross the placenta as readily as residues from cigarettes and alcohol."

The researchers say the government should take stronger steps to protect unborn children and infants. Such action, they say, should include updating the Toxic Substances Control Act to require chemical manufacturers to "demonstrate affirmatively that the chemicals they sell are safe for the entire population exposed, including children in the womb."


"Body burden—the pollution in newborns: A benchmark investigation of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides in umbilical cord blood," Jane Houlihan, Timothy Kropp, Richard Wiles, Sean Gray, and Chris Campbell, Environmental Working Group, July 14, 2005. Full report available at http://www.ewg.org.

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