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Welcome to PSR's Environmental Health Policy Institute, where we ask questions -- then we ask the experts to answer them. Join us as physicians, health professionals, and environmental health experts share their ideas, inspiration, and analysis about toxic chemicals and environmental health policy.


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Expectant Parents and the Safe Chemicals Act

Posted on January 5, 2012

By Karin Gunther Russ, MS RN

This essay is in response to: Public Health and the Safe Chemicals Act

Pregnancy is a unique time in life, when the hopes and dreams of parents are focused on the healthy growth of the infant about to join their family. Expectant parents want the best for their new baby, and often take special care to make sure the mother eats well, rests, and avoids coming in contact with things that might be dangerous to the development of the baby she is carrying.

In our modern industrial society, however, people are continually exposed to a wide range of man-made chemicals. Many Americans assume that governmental agencies require testing of chemicals before they are put into consumer products, in a way similar to the testing of new drugs that is required by the FDA. Unfortunately, they are mistaken. Current federal regulations are inadequate to protect the health of the public, especially those most vulnerable.

Recent studies have found more than 200 industrial chemicals present in the umbilical cord blood samples of newborns. Chemicals found in infant cord blood include pesticides, plastic additives, industrial solvents and lubricants, flame retardants and non-stick chemicals. In 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel report acknowledged that ‘babies are born ‘pre-polluted.’”  Prenatal exposure to chemicals in the environment has been associated with a wide variety of negative health outcomes for the child. While the biological mechanisms that lead to these outcomes continue to be studied, researchers are finding strong correlations between exposures to environmental contaminants and disease. 

Babies born to mothers exposed to some pesticides, plastic components, flame retardants, industrial lubricants and non-stick chemicals are at higher risk for preterm birth and low birth weight. Exposure to some pesticides and certain types of plastics are associated with higher rates of birth defects. The developing fetal brain is especially vulnerable to negative neurodevelopmental effects from exposure to toxic substances. Research in animal models finds an extensive number of chemicals with neurotoxic properties, and studies in humans support the associations.  For example, some pesticides, plastic components, flame retardants and industrial lubricants have been linked to lower IQ, behavioral problems, and impaired neuromotor functioning in children.

The federal regulation of chemicals used in consumer products now relies on a nearly 40-year-old law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. Approximately 62,000 chemicals that were on the market when the law was enacted were never required to be tested for safety.  The EPA has been able to require testing on just 200 chemicals under TSCA and restricts the use of only five. TSCA reform will give the EPA power to take immediate action on the most dangerous chemicals, such as those that accumulate in the body and last indefinitely in the environment. Companies would also be required to provide full information on the health impacts of all their chemicals. Most importantly, for substances where preliminary research data show potential concern, chemicals must be proven safe before entering the marketplace. The Safer Chemicals Act will help protect the safety of all Americans, especially those most vulnerable to harmful health effects, such as pregnant women and children.


Patrice said ..

Am wondering if the huge increase of autism in children is related to this topic & is it being researched?

March 31, 2012

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