Study: Chemicals, pollutants found in newborns
by Peter Fimrite, San Francisco Chronicle
December 3rd, 2009
Chemicals from cosmetics, perfumes and other fragrances were detected along with dozens of other industrial compounds in the umbilical cords of African American, Asian and Latino infants in the United States, according to a national study released Wednesday.
Laboratory tests paid for by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group and Rachel’s Network found 232 chemicals and pollutants in the umbilical cords of the 10 babies tested in five states between December 2007 and June 2008.
‘Not a surprise’
“It is not a surprise because studies for many years have shown synthetic and industrial chemicals in humans, but it is particularly concerning that the developing fetus is being exposed,” said Megan Schwarzman, a family physician at San Francisco General Hospital and a research scientist in environmental public health at UC Berkeley. “This is a particularly vulnerable time, and there is no reason for the chemicals to be there.”
It was the 11th time the working group has conducted laboratory tests of human blood for chemicals in household and industrial products. Overall, the working group, which focuses on environmental health issues, found 414 chemicals and pollutants in 186 people of all ages and races, including Caucasians.
The latest study was the first time newborns of minority mothers were exclusively tested.
Representatives of the study group admitted that the sample of newborns from California, Michigan, Florida, Massachusetts and Wisconsin was too small for them to draw any definitive conclusions about race. The results are nevertheless likely to provide new ammunition in the effort to tighten regulations of consumer products and force cosmetic companies to list their ingredients.
Seven of the 10 babies had in their umbilical cord blood synthetic musks known as Galaxolide and Tonalide, which are toxic to aquatic life and have been shown in preliminary studies to cause hormonal changes.
The musk is used in scented soaps, perfumes and colognes, indicating the infants were contaminated by cosmetics their mothers used.
“It means the chemicals are crossing the placenta and getting into babies in the womb,” said Stacy Malkan, a member of San Francisco’s Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the author of “Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.”
Another chemical found in the umbilical cords was bisphenol A, or BPA, a synthetic estrogen used in plastics that has been linked to breast cancer and hormonal problems. A study of Chinese factory workers released last month found an increased risk of sexual dysfunction from exposure to large amounts of the chemical.
It was the first time the synthetic musks and BPA were found in newborns.
Products used in flame retardants, rocket fuels, on frying pans and in computer circuit boards were found in the infants in addition to lead, mercury and known carcinogens, according to the study.
Despite this stark evidence of contamination, cosmetics companies do not have to list synthetic chemicals in their products because fragrances are considered trade secrets.
“You won’t find these chemicals on the label of your favorite perfume because companies don’t have to tell us what is in a fragrance,” Malkan said. “That’s just wrong. Consumers have the right to know what chemicals we are putting into our bodies.”
On Wednesday, California and 12 other states issued a joint statement saying federal laws designed to protect the public from toxic chemicals are too weak. The statement asked for changes that would protect vulnerable populations by identifying and regulating the chemicals in consumer products.
The cosmetic industry and petrochemical companies have fought efforts in Congress to reform cosmetic industry regulations, which were first drawn up in 1938 and have remained virtually unchanged.
Both the House and Senate are considering bills to ban bisphenol A in food and beverage containers. The bills, by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., would protect pregnant women, their children and other consumers from the hormone-disrupting chemical that is used in plastic baby bottles, food containers and in the lining of food cans.
The Environmental Working Group study urges immediate action to prevent further exposure to chemicals.
“Each time we look for the latest chemical of concern in infant cord blood, we find it,” said Anila Jacob, the group’s senior scientist and co-author of the report. “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.”