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Pregnant women are often extra careful to avoid toxic products, like certain plastics and chemicals in household cleaners. But a new study of West Coast mothers shows those efforts only go so far. Babies are born already exposed to toxins linked to serious health problems. KUOW’s Liz Jones reports.

A handwritten note on Kim Radtke’s front door says “Please wash hands before holding baby.” Her son, Konner, was born just about two weeks ago.

Radtke is one of nine women who took part in this recent study by the Washington Toxics Coalition. It’s a non–profit that lobbies for tougher restrictions on toxic chemicals.

The women were tested midway through their pregnancies for a suite of toxins, like phthalates, mercury and Teflon chemicals. These chemicals have been linked to health problems like cancer, learning disabilities and infertility. However, many scientists argue there’s no clear data that show direct cause and effect. And it’s also unclear what level of exposure could cause any harm.

Still, the local results follow those found in larger, federal studies. All the tests, including Radtke’s, came back positive for toxins — some at high levels.

Radtke: “So my reaction was kind of one of surprise, then of anger that my baby is being exposed to environmental toxins in utero and after birth even though I’m trying very hard to protect him. And that’s infuriating to me that industry can get away with what they get away with.”

Reporter: “So did you learn very much at all about where these toxins are coming from? Or possible sources?”

Radtke: “Yeah, um, what I learned is that it’s really hard to determine that.”

For years, Radtke’s eaten organic food. She buys natural products, diligently reads labels and tries to avoid any toxic products.

Schreder: “You know ultimately, this isn’t a problem that women can shop their way out of.”

That’s Erika Schreder. She’s a scientist with the Washington Toxics Coalition. She says most people are exposed to toxins through food and everyday products.

Schreder: “So ultimately what we really need are new policies that will ensure that only the safest chemicals can be put in products. And that’s really the only sure way to eliminate exposures.”

The coalition is pushing for tougher state laws on a chemical called bisphenol, or BPA. It’s used in baby bottles, sippy cups and sports water bottles. Scientists believe even small amounts of BPA can cause cancer, obesity or harm to reproductive development.

Earlier this year, the Washington legislature failed to pass a bill that would eliminate BPA in some baby products. But the bill is expected to come up again next session.

Congress is also due to take up legislation soon that would toughen rules on toxic chemicals.

I’m Liz Jones, KUOW News.

© Copyright 2009, KUOW

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