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New UCSF Study Identifies Toxic Chemicals in Pregnant Women

Need for Reform of Outdated Toxic Substances Control Act More Urgent than Ever Before

A new study by researchers at UCSF and published in today’s Environmental Health Perspectives found that virtually all U.S. pregnant women carry multiple chemicals, including some banned since the 1970s and others used in common products such as non-stick cookware, processed foods and personal care products. Exposure to chemicals during fetal development has been shown to increase the risk of adverse health consequences, including preterm birth and birth defects, childhood morbidity, and adult disease and mortality, according to the research team.

Meanwhile, the outdated federal law governing chemicals in the U.S. — the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) – remains on the books, despite being widely considered a failure by both industry and public health groups alike.

“These findings should be a call to action for Congress and the Administration.” said Andy Igrejas, director of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition. “We’ve known for years that exposures in the womb to toxic chemicals have a profound effect on the health of children. Here we have confirmation that pregnant women are carrying these chemicals around in their bodies.”

Recent polling by Mark Mellman has shown surprisingly strong bi-partisan support for cracking down on toxic chemicals across demographic and regional lines. Eighteen states have taken action on chemicals since 2002, passing 71 different laws with overwhelming bi-partisan support. In the last Congress, however, legislation by Senator Frank Lautenberg and Congressman Henry Waxman was introduced but never brought up for a vote.

“Federal chemical policy reform is the best approach for tackling this major issue,” said Igrejas. “At the voter level there is almost no daylight between Republicans and Democrats on this issue. Can Congress follow their lead? We’re optimistic that they can.”

Due to serious limitations of the current law, very little is known about the vast majority of the tens of thousands of chemicals produced and used in the US. Over the past three decades, the EPA has required testing on just 200 existing chemicals and restricted only five. Even commonly-known carcinogens including as lead, asbestos and formaldehyde, are still allowed to be used under current TSCA regulations.

Analyzing data for 163 chemicals, UCSF researchers detected polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides, perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), phenols, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and perchlorate in 99 to 100 percent of pregnant women. Among the chemicals found in the study group were PBDEs, compounds used as flame retardants now banned in many states including California, and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), an organochlorine pesticide banned in the United States in 1972.

Bisphenol A (BPA), which makes plastic hard and clear, and is found in epoxy resins that are used to line the inside of metal food and beverage cans, was identified in 96 percent of the women surveyed. Prenatal exposure to BPA has been linked to adverse health outcomes, affecting brain development and increasing susceptibility to cancer later in life, according to the researchers.