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Toxic Chemicals Found in Minority Cord Blood

(202) 667-6982
For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC - Laboratory tests commissioned by Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Rachel's Network have detected bisphenol A (BPA) for the first time in the umbilical cord blood of U.S. newborns. The tests identified the plastics chemical in 9 of 10 cord blood samples from babies of African American, Asian and Hispanic descent.

The findings provide hard evidence that U.S. infants are contaminated with BPA beginning in the womb.

Additional tests conducted by five laboratories in the U.S., Canada and Europe found up to 232 toxic chemicals in the 10 cord blood samples. Besides BPA, substances detected for the first time in U.S. newborns included a toxic flame retardant chemical called tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA) that permeates computer circuit boards, synthetic fragrances (Galaxolide and Tonalide) used in common cosmetics and detergents, and perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA, or C4), a member of the notorious Teflon chemical family used to make non-stick and grease-, stain- and water-resistant coatings for cookware, textiles, food packaging and other consumer products.

The EWG study is the first to find perchlorate contamination in cord blood samples from multiple states. (A study by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently found perchlorate in cord blood samples from infants born in New Jersey.) Nine of the 10 samples in the EWG study were contaminated with perchlorate, a solid rocket fuel component and potent thyroid toxin that can disrupt production of hormones essential for normal brain development.

The minority cord blood study is the 11th biomonitoring investigation commissioned by EWG. These projects, employing leading biomonitoring labs around the world, have together identified up to 493 chemicals, pollutants and pesticides in people, from newborns to grandparents. Each study contributes new pieces to a mosaic of the "human toxome," as EWG analysts call pollution in people.

"Each time we look for the latest chemical of concern in infant cord blood, we find it," said Anila Jacob, M.D., EWG senior scientist and co-author of the report. "This time we discovered BPA, among other dangerous substances, in almost every infant's cord blood we tested."

"This study proves newborns are exposed to BPA in the womb," Jacob said. "After they are born, they'll encounter more BPA by drinking from a bottle, drinking canned infant formula and, eventually, eating canned food like ravioli and chicken noodle soup."

"When I learned of EWG's groundbreaking biomonitoring research four years ago, I knew Rachel's Network members would want to be involved. We are proud to have funded this research, and it is imperative that Congress now take action to strengthen chemical regulation," said Winsome McIntosh, founder and

president of Rachel's Network. "This issue affects all of us; EWG's testing proves that a toxic chemical burden exists in women and children regardless of geographic location or socioeconomic status."

Cord Blood from Babies of Minority Backgrounds

Racial and ethnic minority communities in the U.S. are often bombarded with environmental pollutants. Whether through poverty or historical patterns of discrimination, they are more likely to spend much of their time near busy roads and industrial sites and in older housing.

The 10 children in this study were born between December 2007 and June 2008 in Michigan, Florida, Massachusetts, California and Wisconsin. They are otherwise anonymous. EWG has no way of knowing anything about the homes and neighborhoods into which they were born. The study tested for chemicals that can be found in virtually every American household. Additional studies are needed to define the risk from localized pollution sources.

We did not test for chemicals such as the byproducts of smoking or alcohol consumption that would indicate behaviors by the mother that could in any way jeopardize the health of the child. Instead, the contaminants found in these children are from unintended exposures to some of the most problematic consumer products and commercial chemicals offered for sale on the market. Their presence in fetal cord blood represents a significant failure on the part of the Congress and government agencies charged with protecting human health.

Our results strongly suggest that the health of all children is threatened by trace amounts of hundreds of synthetic chemicals coursing through their bodies from the earliest stages of life.

Broken federal toxics regulatory law:

In recent speeches laying out the Obama administration's key principles for federal chemicals policy reform, Lisa P. Jackson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has cited previous cord blood research by EWG.

The federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which Jackson, EWG and many others in the environmental and public health community are committed to reform, is so weak that it has prevented EPA from banning asbestos, a known human carcinogen responsible for the deaths of 10,000 people every year.

The failed federal toxics law is primarily to blame for the widespread contamination in umbilical cord blood. The 1976 act does not require manufacturers to prove through scientific tests that chemicals are safe for humans and the environment before going on the market. There are currently more than 80,000 chemicals in consumer goods, with little or no safety information about their impact on human health.

In the previous two congresses, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) have introduced the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act. Now joined by Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL), the four are currently working to draft TSCA reform legislation. The bill is expected to fundamentally change the way chemicals are assessed by placing the burden on manufacturers to prove the substances are safe before they are marketed.

"There is increasing evidence that we must test and regulate potentially toxic substances that wind up in our bodies," said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg. "America's system for regulating toxic chemicals is broken. The legislation I am currently drafting will strengthen chemical safety laws and give Americans confidence that products they use are safe."

Congressional, medical, environmental and religious leaders react to the study

Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL)
"The EWG study sheds a disturbing light on a toxic substance that adds yet another burden to consumers -- this time, it's women of childbearing age and the potential for harm to their unborn fetuses. The results of this study are shocking and deserve further scrutiny. I look forward to being part of a constructive effort to address the issues raised in this report."

U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY)
"The results of this EWG study are illuminating - and frightening. Even more frightening is the fact that we do not have an understanding of how the presence of synthetic chemicals in the body affects children throughout their lives. I have been deeply concerned about this issue for years and this week re-introduced legislation authorizing the NIEHS to establish a comprehensive program to better understand the impact of hormone disrupting pollutants in the environment on the health of women and children."

Sandy Buchanan, Executive Director, Ohio Citizen Action
"We are all exposed to chemicals in the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink, but a baby in the womb should be allowed to develop free from an onslaught of industrial pollutants. This study is yet another wakeup call that the federal Toxic Substances Control Act has failed to block toxic chemicals from entering our environment and ultimately us."

Jeanne Rizzo, President and CEO, The Breast Cancer Fund
"Right now, Congress is considering a ban on BPA in food and beverage containers. Babies are being born already contaminated with BPA. What more compelling evidence could we possibly need to prompt immediate action?"

Craig D. Hafer, Chairman, Pennsylvania Institute for Children's Environmental Health
"This study is evidence that our federal laws are antiquated and do not do enough to protect children from unnecessary exposure to potentially harmful substances within the womb. We need to protect all unborn children from harm. We cannot selectively choose those times to protect unborn children when it is politically convenient, but then knowingly ignore them when there is such compelling evidence that they are being exposed to potentially harmful substances."

Anne Rolfes, Founding Director, The Louisiana Bucket Brigade
"This study has found jet fuel in babies' cord blood; it is obvious that swift legislative action is urgent. This can't be just another problem for minority communities, another problem that gets pushed aside for another day. We have to do something about it, and we have to do it now."

The Rev. Richard Cizik

"Our nation's leaders have a moral obligation to protect unborn children from chemical contamination. When babies are born with an untold number of industrial pollutants already inside their small, developing bodies, it should shock us all into demanding action. Can you call yourself 'pro-life' or 'pro-choice' and do nothing? Regardless of party or politics, let's face up to the reality that we can prevent future generations from the risks today's children already face."

David Baker, Founder and Director, Community Against Pollution
"Today, industrial pollution in humans begins in the womb, and this new report underscores that regardless of a person's race or ethnicity, everyone is affected. The chemical industry had the floodgates opened over 30 years ago when a federal law went on the books that ultimately swamped the marketplace with more than 80,000 chemicals; many of them are now in people and linked to a number of serious health risks that have spiked among children."

Dr. Woodson Merrell, Chairman, Department of Integrative Medicine, Beth Israel Medical Center, N.Y.
"This EWG research initiative crucially augments similar studies from the Centers for Disease Control and helps further establish links between pollution and many chronic and fatal diseases reaching near-epidemic proportions in the U.S., including asthma, breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, obesity and ADHD. It's critical that we begin to understand the health impacts of exposure to pollutants, especially for women of childbearing age as regards the chemicals highlighted in this report, which have hormone disrupting and carcinogenic properties. I urge journalists, scientists, physicians and members of industry to take a close look at this latest groundbreaking research."

Dr. Beverly Wright, Executive Director, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice
"This study really highlights the need for reform of the current law that regulates chemicals. Babies from all communities and backgrounds should be born without being exposed to industrial chemicals during their development."

Contact information for partner organizations that assisted in roll out this study:

Sandy Buchanan - Ohio Citizen Action -(216)-861-5200
Jeanne Rizzo - Breast Cancer Fund - (415)-336-2246
Anne Rolfes - LA Bucket Brigade - (504)-484-3433
Craig Hafer - Pennsylvania Institute for Children's Environmental Health - (610)-750-4463

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. http://www.ewg.org

 

Rachel’s Network, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit membership organization established in 2000, connects women funders who share a commitment to the environment, health, and women’s empowerment. http://www.rachelsnetwork.org

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