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Fetal exposure to crude oil chemical linked to congenital heart disease

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Congenital heart disease from ethyl benzene exposure explored

Researchers say the effect of the 2010 BP oil spill could have long-lasting consequences. Fetal exposure to the chemical solvent ethyl benzene, found in crude oil, cleaning agents and spot removers, could cause congenital heart disease (CHD).

The findings, presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Denver today, is the first time ethyl benzene has been reported to cause abnormal heart development in utero.

D. Gail McCarver, MD, FAAP, lead author of the study and professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Children's Research Institute, Milwaukee says the findings are significant.

Exposures to environmental chemicals have been suspected as a cause of CHD. The researchers found fetal exposure to ethyl benzene in crude oil, which can be inhaled from motor vehicle emissions, gasoline pump vapors and cigarette smoke was associated with a four-fold higher chance of congenital heart disease in white, but not black infants.

McCarver says, "Congenital heart disease is a major cause of childhood death and life-long health problems. Thus, identifying risk factors contributing to CHD is important to public health."

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For the research, stool samples of newborns, known as meconium were for solvents from 135 newborns with congenital heart disease and 432 newborns without CHD. Eighty two percent of the infants tested had one or more measureable solvents in the meconium samples.

Another concern was levels of a common degreaser, known as trichloroethylene (TCE) that the McCarver says, “is present in many cleaners and spot removers. TCE also has been the most common chemical identified around hazardous waste sites.”

In the study, TCE exposure doubled the risk for CHD among white infants - for black infants, the risk of heart disease was eight-fold.

The finding is the first to find fetal environmental exposure to ethyl benzene in crude oil could increase the chances of congenital heart disease. McCarver says the new concern about trichloroethylene (TCE), which was also associated with CHD, suggests women who are pregnant need to limit their exposure to the compound. The effects of the 2010 BP oil spill, as well as exposure to the common degreaser TCE, could have implications for fetal health that should be explored.

PAS: “Increased Congenital Heart Disease Risk Associated with Documented Fetal Solvent Exposure”
D. Gail McCarver et al.

Image Credit: Wikimedia commons
Source: NASA