Posted on 25 July 2005
Until recently scientists believed that the placenta shielded the developing baby from most chemicals and pollutions in the environment.
Until recently scientists believed that the placenta shielded the developing baby from most chemicals and pollutions in the environment. However a new study from the United States has found that cord blood is actually carrying hazardous chemicals to the unborn babies.
In a study for the Environment Working Group in the United States two major laboratories**
tested the cord of 10 newborn babies for 413 chemicals. They found that the blood in the babies’ cords contained an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants. As cord blood reflects what is being carried through the placenta, this shows that man-made chemicals that have entered the women’s bodies are being passed directly to the unborn baby.
Altogether 287 chemicals were detected in umbilical cord blood, including 209 of which had never been detected before in cord blood. One hundred and eighty of these are carcinogenic, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests.
The chemicals found included eight perfluorochemicals used as stain and oil repellents in fast food packaging, clothes and textiles (including the Teflon chemical PFOA) and dozens of widely used flame-retardants.
The results were published in Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns
and were taken from blood samples of10 babies born in US hospitals in August and September 2004.
Society’s responsibility to ensure new-born babies are not polluted
As the report points out, "a developing baby depends on adults for protection, nutrition and survival. As a society we have a responsibility to ensure that babies do not enter this world pre-polluted, with 200 industrial chemicals in their blood. The umbilical cord carries not only the building blocks of life, but also a steady stream of industrial chemicals… that cross the placenta as readily as residues from cigarettes and alcohol".
The laboratories tested for and found the following chemicals
Commenting on the findings, Environment Working Group Research Vice President Jane Houlihan said "for years scientists have studied pollution in the air, water, land and in our food. Now we find this pollution is reaching babies during vital stages of development."
Unborn babies far more vulnerable than adults
Because unborn babies’ defence systems are incomplete they are incapable of detoxifying and excreting industrial chemicals. Consequently a developing child’s chemical exposures are greater per gram for gram weight than adults. In addition, because the blood-brain barrier is immature and porous the developing brain is more exposed to chemicals.
The results have drawn shocked reactions from US politicians. New York Democratic Representative Louise Slaughter, said "These 10 newborn babies were born polluted. If ever we had proof that our nation’s pollution laws aren’t working, it’s reading the list of industrial chemicals in the bodies of babies who have not yet lived outside the womb."
The EWG explains that they were only able to test for a certain range of chemicals because testing umbilical cord blood for industrial chemicals is technically challenging and very expensive - laboratory costs for these cord blood analyses were $10,000 per sample. It believes that had they been able to test for a broader array of chemicals, they would certainly have found them.
US industries manufacture and import approximately 75,000 each year and health officials do not know how many of them pollute foetal blood or the possible health consequences of in utero
exposures. Inexplicably, chemical manufacturers do not have to divulge the methods they use to detect their chemicals in humans; so few laboratories are able test for these chemicals in unborn children.
Senator Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey is planning to co-sponsor a bill requiring more testing of toxic chemicals. As he explained, "Today chemicals are being used to make baby bottles, food packages and other products that have never been fully evaluated for their health effects on children – and some of these chemicals are turning up in our blood". **
AXYS Analytical Services (Sydney, British Colombia) and Flett Research Ltd (Winnipeg, Manitoba). For more information:
Noemi Cano, Communications Manager
WWF DetoX Campaign
Tel: +32 2 743 88 06