Stronger Chemical Regulations Are Needed to Prevent Prenatal Exposures
February 2, 2012
This essay is in response to: How is the developing fetus vulnerable to toxic chemical exposures, and how can our regulatory system more effectively protect our health in the prenatal period?
a nurse-midwife, I work with moms and families to have the healthiest pregnancy
possible. I talk with them about diet, exercise, weight gain, and, over the
past few years, I have also started talking with them about all of the
different products they use and the chemicals that may be found in these
is a growing body of research that shows how fetal exposures to chemicals found
in everyday products may be implicated in the rising rates of health problems seen
in children and adults such as diabetes, infertility, obesity, neurodevelopment
disorders, and cancer. Unfortunately our current regulatory system is not
working to protect us, nor the most vulnerable among us – including the growing
fetus -- from exposures to these chemicals.
class of chemicals that has seen increased interest over the past ten years is
endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Low-level exposures to EDCs during
critical times of fetal growth may interfere with the hormone signaling that is
vital to normal growth and development and gene functioning. Research is now showing
that exposures to these chemicals can cause changes in how genes work,
impacting which genes are turned on and off and when, increasing that child’s
risk for chronic diseases such as obesity.
current federal chemical regulatory system is failing to protect babies from
prenatal exposures both because of how chemicals are regulated in the marketplace
and how safety testing is performed.
the United States, the main law that regulates chemicals used in everyday
products is the Toxic Substances Control Act.
When this law was passed in 1976, the 60,000 chemicals that were already
on the market were allowed to stay on the market without any health and safety
testing. There are now over 87,000 chemicals on the market and these have not
been fully assessed for their impacts on human health. Currently, manufacturers
do not have to show that their chemicals are safe before they are placed on the
market. Instead, the government must prove that a chemical is harmful in order
for it to be taken off the market.
safety testing that is being performed at agencies such as the US Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) has not been keeping up with the new science on
low-dose EDC exposures. The EPA now has an Endocrine Disruptor Screening
Program that will evaluate those chemicals that have the highest likelihood of
being EDCs, but this program has been slow to begin testing and the EPA is not
currently taking into account low-dose exposures when they are developing their
chemical risk assessments.
order to protect the growing fetus from harmful chemical exposures, our current
chemical regulatory system needs an overhaul. The Safe Chemicals Act of 2011,
introduced by Senator Frank Lautenburg of New Jersey, will address many of the
issues with the current regulations and require safety testing before chemicals
are placed on the market. It will give the EPA the ability to take the highest
risk chemicals off the market and encourage chemical manufacturers to produce
safer products. The EPA also needs to accelerate the testing in the Endocrine
Disruptor Screening program and incorporating the findings into their risk
the current regulations protect babies from prenatal toxic chemical exposures,
nurse-midwives, physicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers need to be
educating their clients about the risks associated with chemicals found in
everyday products and ways to decrease their exposures. We also need to
advocate for the regulatory changes that will protect women and infants from
harmful chemicals that could have life-long health implications.