Cocktail of chemicals found in the blood of newborns

Some 200 toxic chemicals have built up in the body of the average American baby before it is even born, according to a new scientific study.

Researchers from the Environmental Working Group took samples from umbilical cords and tested for the presence of 413 harmful chemicals.

287 different chemicals were found to have been pumped into the babies' blood through the cord, with the number of contaminants reaching individual babies averaging at 200.

The chemicals include pesticides, industrial contaminants and those found in common household products.

The catalogue of chemicals can harm the development of the brain and nervous system, cause problems with sexual development and reproduction, increase the risk of cancer, lead to birth defects and cause liver and kidney damage.

The toxins included mercury, flame retardants, pesticides and the Teflon chemical PFOA.

Infants are particularly vulnerable to the risks as their immune system is incomplete and those chemicals which alter the body's functions are more harmful to a developing child than a fully developed adult.

Until recently scientists believed the placenta and umbilical cord shielded foetuses from most contaminants, cleaning the blood passed from mother to baby and screening out the majority of toxins.

"For years scientists have studied pollution in the air, water, land and in our food," said EWG vice president for research Jane Houlihan.

"Recently they've investigated its health impacts on adults.

"Now we find this pollution is reaching babies during vital stages of development.

"These findings raise questions about the gaps in our federal safety net.

"Instead of rubber-stamping almost every new chemical that industry invents, we've got to strengthen and modernize the laws that are supposed to protect Americans from pollutants."

US industries manufacture and import approximately 75,000 chemicals, 3,000 of them at over a million pounds per year.

Yet health officials do not know how many of these chemicals pollute foetal blood and what the health consequences of in utero exposures might be.

Many of these chemicals require specialized techniques to detect. Chemical manufacturers are not required to make available to the public or government health officials methods to detect their chemicals in humans, and most do not volunteer them.

The situation in Europe and elsewhere in the world is not dissimilar.

EWG's Houlihan said that had her group been able to test for more chemicals, it would almost certainly have detected them.

By Sam Bond



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