Pollution in Minority Newborns

232 toxic chemicals in 10 minority babies.

November 23, 2009

Pollution in Minority Newborns: FAQ

  1. Why have you tested minority cord blood?

    This is EWG’s second cord blood study. Our first cord blood study, released in 2005, involved 10 newborns whose demographic information was unknown. In this study, we focused on children from minority communities because of the dearth of biomonitoring studies of these populations. To our knowledge, this is the first study that tests for such a large number chemicals in cord blood from infants African American, Latino, and Asian heritage. The purpose of this study was to make sure that racial and ethnic minority communities are considered as we explore the impacts of pollution in people.

  2. Can I have my own baby's cord blood tested?

    With a few exceptions, commercial laboratories do not offer cord blood testing for individuals. Your physician may be able to have your child’s cord blood tested for lead and a few other common pollutants. But extensive tests such as we have commissioned are done only for scientific studies. You can contact a nearby university to find out if you can enroll your child’s cord blood in a scientific study.

  3. Can I test my own body for chemicals?

    Most commercial laboratories do not offer biomonitoring tests for chemicals. The exceptions are lead and mercury. Your physician may be able to arrange testing for those chemicals. You can inquire about enrolling yourself in a scientific study.

  4. Lead is very dangerous to developing bodies? How can I have my children tested for lead?

    Ask your pediatrician when to test children for lead and how to interpret the test results.

  5. How can I protect myself and my family from chemicals?

    Limit your exposure to toxic chemicals (check out our Healthy Home Tips to find out how). We invite you to join us in our fight for policies that restrict harmful chemicals in the environment. Policy reform is the most permanent, cost-effective and fair way to protect our health. Visit our action page to learn more.

  6. How did you pick chemicals to be targeted by your tests?

    We focused on pesticides, industrial pollutants and chemicals typically found in consumer products, food and water. Some, like PCBs, have been banned for decades but persist in the environment. We looked for some chemicals, like bisphenol A and perchlorate, that have been detected in most Americans over age 6 and that pose a special danger to the fetus and newborn.

  7. Why did you limit your tests to 10 subjects?

    Studies of chemicals in human tissues are expensive. Our laboratory costs alone were almost $7,000 per sample. The methods are highly specialized and few laboratories have the technical expertise to run the analyses. Many cord blood studies often have fewer than 20 study participants.

    From this study, we conclude that a random sampling of umbilical cord blood from 10 American newborns of African American, Latino and Asian heritage was contaminated with 175 to 232 of 383 possible chemicals. This study is the first to detect BPA, polycyclic musks and a few other chemicals in U.S. cord blood samples.

  8. Why are in utero chemical exposures so significant?

    During pregnancy, the placenta transfers nutrients from the mother to the fetus and moves fetal waste to the mother, who excretes them. Numerous studies show that the placenta does not, as once thought, shield the developing fetus from the hundreds of industrial chemicals and pesticides with which the mother comes in contact.

    In-utero contamination is particularly worrisome because of the unique vulnerabilities of the developing fetus (Grandjean 2008).

    • The blood-brain barrier, a protective mechanism that prevents many harmful chemicals from entering the human brain, is not fully developed until after birth (Rodier 1995).
    • The developing fetus cannot detoxify and excrete many chemicals as completely as a mature body (Birnbaum 2003).
    • The fetus undergoes rapid cellular division, proliferation and differentiation, during which processes its cells are particularly susceptible to chemical exposures

    Exposure to toxic industrial chemicals during critical windows of development can result in permanent and irreversible brain and organ damage (Grandjean 2008, Barr 2007).

  9. How and when is the mother exposed to these chemicals?

    More than 80,000 commercial chemicals are approved for use in the U.S., a number that grows by 2,500 new chemicals yearly (EPA 1997). U.S. industries produce or import 3,000 of these substances in quantities of greater than one million pounds per year (EPA 2005c). Many pesticides banned in the U.S. for decades persist in the environment, build up in the food chain and continue to contribute to daily exposures (PCBs and DDT, for example). Government sources detail more than 3,000 chemicals used as food additives (FDA 2005), an estimated 10,500 ingredients in personal care products (FDA 2000), and more than 500 chemicals approved as active ingredients in pesticides (EPA 2002a,2005b).

    Many of these chemicals, whether used purposefully or unwanted impurities, can contribute to a person's body burden through exposures from food, air, water, dust, soil and consumer products.

  10. What are the implications of chemical exposures for human health?

    For many chemicals in our bodies, the health consequences are unknown. Studies aren't required under federal law and in most cases haven't been done.

  11. What steps can women who are pregnant or planning to be pregnant take to reduce any adverse effects on their children?

    Some exposure to pesticides, industrial chemicals and environmentally persistent pollutants are unavoidable. But some are.

    Some tips:

    • Eat fewer processed foods, because they often contain chemical additives.
    • Eat organic produce.
    • Don't microwave food in plastic containers. Use glass or ceramics.
    • Filter your tap water.
    • Eat fewer meat and high-fat dairy products.
    • Use fewer cosmetics and other personal care products.
    • Avoid artificial fragrances.
    • Don't use stain repellants on clothing, bedding or upholstery.
    • Use fewer strong household cleaners, more soap and water.
    • Use manual or electric yard tools instead of gasoline-powered models.
    • Avoid gasoline fumes when you're filling your car.
    • Eat seafood known to be low in PCB and mercury contamination, such as wild Alaska salmon and canned salmon. Avoid canned tuna — it contains mercury.

    If you're pregnant, ask someone in your household to take over household cleaning and pumping gas. Don’t paint the baby’s room while you’re expecting. Don't use nail polish.

    For more specifics, sign up to get our Healthy Home Tips in your inbox.

  12. Will infants born with contaminants in their bodies shed them?

    That depends. Some chemicals like perchlorate have very short half lives and exit the human body very quickly, but other chemicals like lead have longer half lives and may persist months or even years.