Common and banned chemicals found in nearly all pregnant women studied

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Researchers analyzed chemicals in pregnant women for the first time, finding ban

In a first study, researchers count the number of chemicals found in pregnant women.

Chemicals that have been banned since the 1970’s have been found in the blood of pregnant women that raise concerns about negative effects in children.

Some of the chemicals found are common and include Bisphenol A BPA, the chemical used in plastics and the lining of canned foods that has raised much concern about the potential for cancer development later in life and fetal neurodevelopmental disorders from pre-natal exposure. BPA was found in the analysis in 96 percent of pregnant women studied.

Other chemicals in the bodies of pregnant women included polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides; perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), phenols, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and perchlorate in 99 to 100 percent of the women.

The study, conducted by researchers at University of California - San Francisco, analyzed data for 163 chemicals among 268 pregnant women, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The women were part of the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) 2003-2004.

The researchers did not track health outcomes from the chemicals found, but note, "Several of these chemicals in pregnant women were at the same concentrations that have been associated with negative effects in children from other studies.”

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Lead study author Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH, director of the UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment explains exposure to multiple chemicals increases health risks even more. Included in the potential adverse events are pre-term birth, adult disease, birth defects, childhood morbidity and birth defects.

Among banned chemicals found in pregnant women was PBDE, used as a flame retardant. The compound is banned in many states including California. The researchers also found dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane ( DDT), an organochlorine pesticide that has been banned in the United States since 1972.

The authors recommend studies to discover the main source of the potentially harmful chemicals found in the blood of the pregnant women.

The authors recommend a systematic, proactive approach from the government to help protect the public from toxins in the environment and in the household.

They also advise more studies to uncover the health impact of chemicals that predominate and persist in the environment that were discovered in the blood of large number of pregnant women studied.

Individuals should take action to protect themselves from exposure to potentially harmful chemicals like BPA, PCB’s, PFC’s and even DDT that was banned in 1972 in the US. The findings are the first to count the number of chemicals to which pregnant women are exposed, many of which come from personal care products and processed foods.

Woodruff TJ, Zota AR, Schwartz JM 2011. Environmental Chemicals in Pregnant Women in the US: NHANES 2003-2004. Environ Health Perspect :-. doi:10.1289/ehp.1002727

This page is updated on May 12, 2013.