Babies act as chemical sponge while still in womb - NGOs use vulnerability of newborns to persuade the EU to stand firm on REACH

In a new spin on the political pastime of baby kissing, lobbyists are using the vulnerability of newborns to persuade policy makers to stand firm on regulations to control chemical hazards.

The foetus acts as a sponge, soaking up toxic chemicals in the mother's blood through the umbilical cord

The foetus acts as a sponge, soaking up toxic chemicals in the mother's blood through the umbilical cord

Greenpeace and WWF commissioned research into the extent to which babies' blood was becoming contaminated with harmful man-made chemicals while still in the whom.

Similar studies have been carried out elsewhere (see related story) but this is the first major study looking at a broad range of chemicals present in European newborns.

"Babies feeding through the umbilical cord are exposed to toxic chemicals from products like vinyl plastics, cleaning products, electronics and perfumes," said Helen Perivier, toxics campaigner for Greenpeace International.

"It is shocking that such chemicals are in the human body at any stage of our life, let alone at the very start, when the child is most vulnerable.

"Governments need to act and require industries to substitute these contaminating chemicals with safer alternatives."

The study, A Present for Life: hazardous chemicals in cord blood will add to the growing body of worrying information on the topic.

"It increases our knowledge of the range of chemicals that can be found in the blood and reflects those found in products currently used today," Ms Perivier told edie.

The report focuses on endocrine disruptors, or so-called gender bending chemicals, likely to create fertility problems and inhibit the reproductive development of the babies as they grow.

Its publication is timely, as the battle heats up between opposing lobbies which wish to see a major overhaul of chemical regulations, Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH).

Asked if defending a piece of legislation under attack by one of the most powerful industrial lobbies ever assembled was a goal within reach, Perivier told edie: "I do think it's realistic. REACH is raising this issue in the public awareness - it's putting the questions out there.

"How the politicians decide to respond remains to be seen.

"But we're doing our best to remind the decision makers that their first responsibility is ultimately to the health and welfare of their people."

She said environmental NGOs were working hand in hand with big industrial players like Sony and Samsung that were prepared to embrace cleaner production rather than fight it.

"There are companies out there who are showing it's possible to have a successful business and phase out hazardous chemicals at the same time," she said.

"We've just got to hope that when the time comes the decision makers will be leaders, not followers."

In the UK the Liberal Democrat's spokesman on the environment, Norman Baker MP, has backed the findings of the report, calling for the immediate implementation of REACH.

"It is extremely disturbing to hear that environmental damage is effecting those who are at their most vulnerable in life, unborn babies in the womb," he said.

"This research shows that the new European regulations on chemicals are urgently needed.

"We should be living in a greener world, not a chemical world."

Toxic chemicals are not a new phenomenon.

Generations past have seen hazardous substances come and go as technology, and legislation, have seen them shepherded off the production line.

So is Greenpeace/WWF report no more than a case of same story, different chemicals?

"It's difficult to say of course, a lot of these chemicals we tested for are relatively new and we also found a lot of those that were banned are persisting in the environment," Perivier said.

"But the levels in the foetuses are comparable with those in their mothers, so what has built up in the mothers over their lifetime is what the babies are starting with at stage one of their life.

"They will accumulate more as they are exposed to chemicals in their daily lives.

"We don't try to make the comparison in the report, but you could speculate that would mean babies being born today are going to be exposed to more hazardous chemicals.

"At the end of the day it's a multi-generational problem.

"Unless we close the door to these chemicals we're going to keep going through the cycle."

By Sam Bond



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