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PRT 2 OF 287 CHEMICALS FOUND IN BABIES UMBILICAL CORD BLOOD

In the month leading up to a baby's birth, the umbilical cord pulses with the equivalent of at least 300 quarts of blood each day, pumped back and forth from the nutrient- and oxygen-rich placenta to the rapidly growing child cradled in a sac of amniotic fluid. This cord is a lifeline between mother and baby, bearing nutrients that sustain life and propel growth.


Not long ago, scientists thought that the placenta shielded cord blood — and the developing baby — from most chemicals and pollutants in the environment. But now we know that at this critical time when organs, vessels, membranes, and systems are knit together from single cells to finished form in a span of weeks, the umbilical cord carries not only the building blocks of life but also a steady stream of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides that cross the placenta as readily as residues from cigarettes and alcohol. This is the human "body burden" — the pollution in people that permeates everyone in the world, including babies in the womb.


In a study spearheaded by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in collaboration with Commonweal, researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in August and September of 2004 in U.S. hospitals. Tests revealed a total of 287 chemicals in the group. The umbilical cord blood of these 10 children, collected by the Red Cross after the cord was cut, harbored pesticides, consumer product ingredients, and wastes from burning coal, gasoline, and garbage.


Of the 287 chemicals we detected in umbilical cord blood, we know that 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests. The dangers of pre- or post-natal exposure to this complex mixture of carcinogens, developmental toxins, and neurotoxins have never been studied.


Asthma, autism, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders (ADD and ADHD), childhood brain cancer, and acute lymphocytic leukemia have all increased over the past 30 years. Five to ten percent of American couples are infertile. Up to half of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. Three to five percent of babies are born with birth defects. Scientists cannot fully explain these increases, but early life exposure to environmental pollutants is a leading suspect.


Fetal exposures lead to adult disease. Some chemicals are directly toxic to an exposed child — lead and mercury, for example, which harm a developing brain — while other chemicals induce a chain of events that may culminate in a diagnosed health problem later in life. Hormone-mimicking chemicals like dioxins and furans, for example, could induce delayed cancers in hormone-sensitive tissues like the breast, testicle, or prostate gland. Chemicals like PCBs or DDT can reduce growth rates in the womb, initiating in low birthweight babies lasting internal survival mechanisms that cascade into cardiovascular disease or diabetes later in life.


The fact is, a child can bear a lifelong imprint of risks from the countless molecules of industrial pollutants that find their way through the placenta, down the umbilical cord, and into the baby's body. The consequences — health disorders, subtle or serious — can surface not only in childhood but also in adulthood. Studies now support origins in early life exposures for a startling array of adult diseases, including Alzheimer's, mental disorders, heart disease, and diabetes.


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