Quantcast

3 Toxins Found in the Cord Blood of Every One of the 10 Newborns Tested

Health + Wellness

National media outlets, public health officials and Congress have all focused recently on lead contamination in drinking water. The tainted water in Flint, Michigan, Newark, New Jersey and many other communities around the country poses a serious, potentially lifelong public health threat to millions.

Most of us encounter chemicals that can cause brain damage, cancer and other serious health problems in a place critical to human development—the mother’s womb.

But industrial pollution in people happens long before they take their first sip of water. Most of us encounter chemicals that can cause brain damage, cancer and other serious health problems in a place critical to human development—the mother’s womb.

In 2009, Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted a pioneering study testing the umbilical cord blood of 10 babies for toxic chemicals. In all, the tests found more than 230 industrial pollutants across the 10 samples. Among those that were in the cord blood of every one of the 10 newborns were lead, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Here’s why these toxins are so dangerous:

Lead

Unsafe at any level, lead is a highly neurotoxic metal that is strongly linked to permanent brain and nervous system damage as well as behavior and learning difficulties, hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing and reproductive problems and nerve disorders, according the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“Three decades of research have shown clearly that lead damages the human brain,” EWG’s 2009 report said. “Advances in cognitive and behavioral testing have allowed researchers to discern harm at lower and lower exposures. There is no known safe threshold for exposure.”

How does lead get into cord blood? Most often it happens when mothers drink tap water contaminated with lead leaching from old water pipes or when they ingest or breathe dust from chipped lead paint in older homes.

Although the levels of lead in Flint’s drinking water are far too high to be eliminated by in-home water filters, filters can often significantly reduce, if not completely remove, lead. There are a number of affordable options. Find a water filter that is right for you and your family with EWG’s Water Filter Buying Guide.

Mercury

Like lead, mercury is a naturally occurring element and a notorious neurotoxin that impedes development of the brain and nervous system. The primary sources of mercury contamination today are coal-fired power plants, which have tainted the oceans and fresh waterways around the globe. Mercury is also used in some commercial products, including fluorescent light bulbs and older thermometers. It converts readily into methylmercury, the most toxic form, which builds up in the food chain, most notably in seafood. Watch here:

How does it get into cord blood? Eating methylmercury-tainted seafood is a common source of contamination and almost certainly the primary route of exposure for babies in the womb.

EWG recently issued an analysis critical of the federal government’s new dietary advice, which encourages pregnant women to eat seafood for its beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients but underemphasizes the risks of eating species that are high in mercury.

The amount of mercury in seafood varies widely. Some species, such as tuna, can have especially high levels and pregnant women should limit or avoid it. Other species with high levels of mercury that should be avoided by women who are or plan to get pregnant include shark, swordfish and marlin. EWG’s Consumer Guide to Seafood identifies which seafoods are high and low in mercury as well as healthful omega-3s.

“To protect your baby from toxic mercury and ensure his or her healthy development, you should not only watch how much fish you eat, but what kind of fish,” wrote EWG’s Sonya Lunder, chief author of the report.

PCBs

PCBs are a family of toxic chemicals that were produced by Monsanto from the 1930s until 1976, when the federal government banned them amid mounting evidence that they were harmful to human health. The EPA considers them probable human carcinogens and they also pose risks to the neurological, reproductive and immune systems. PCBs are so persistent in the environment that 40 years after they were banned, they still show up in people (including in cord blood) and in animals that live thousands of miles from places where PCBs were produced and used, including polar bears, whales and dolphins.

Products that were once made with PCBs include electrical equipment, motor oil, cable insulation, pesticides, packaging, packing tape and other adhesives, oil-based paint, caulking, paper, plastics and floor finishes.

How do PCB's get into cord blood? It’s primarily through food. PCBs enter the food chain in various ways, including migrating from packaging and through contaminated animal feed.

Avoiding exposure to PCBs is difficult because these ubiquitous chemicals have reached even the most remote corners of the globe. It helps to avoid eating too much red meat and to trim fat from both red meat and fish before cooking, because PCBs build up in fatty tissues. When possible, choose fresh or canned wild-caught Alaskan salmon, because farmed salmon are often raised on feed that contains PCBs.

Find out more about PCBs in farmed versus wild salmon in this EWG report.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

What Will Happen When Genetically Engineered Salmon Escape Into the Wild?

97% of Endangered Species Threatened by 3 Common Pesticides

France to Ban Glyphosate Weedkillers Due to Health Risks

Online Database Tells You if the Cleaning Products You Bring in Your Home Are Toxic

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A new rule that ends limits for hog slaughtering speeds could increase animal suffering, advocates warn. kickers / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Trump's U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) finalized a new hog slaughtering rule Tuesday that environmental and food safety advocates warn could harm animals, plant workers and public health, Reuters reported.

Read More Show Less
Prehistoric and historic walrus skulls, tusks and bone fragments often wash ashore on the southern coast of Snæfellsnes peninsula in Iceland. Hilmar J. Malmquist

A unique subpopulation of ancient walrus in Iceland was likely hunted to extinction by Vikings shortly after arrival to the region, according to new research.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Drivers make their way on the US 101 freeway on Aug. 30 in Los Angeles, California. Mario Tama / Getty Images

In its latest move to undermine action on the climate crisis, the Trump administration will formally rescind California's waiver to set stricter auto emissions standards under the Clean Air Act.

Read More Show Less
Brazilians living in The Netherlands organized a demonstration in solidarity with rainforest protectors and against the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro on Sept. 1 in The Hague, Netherlands. Romy Arroyo Fernandez / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Tara Smith

Fires in the Brazilian Amazon have jumped 84 percent during President Jair Bolsonaro's first year in office and in July 2019 alone, an area of rainforest the size of Manhattan was lost every day. The Amazon fires may seem beyond human control, but they're not beyond human culpability.

Read More Show Less
Author, social activist and filmmaker Naomi Klein speaking on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20, 2018. Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Natalie Hanman

Why are you publishing this book now?

I still feel that the way that we talk about climate change is too compartmentalised, too siloed from the other crises we face. A really strong theme running through the book is the links between it and the crisis of rising white supremacy, the various forms of nationalism and the fact that so many people are being forced from their homelands, and the war that is waged on our attention spans. These are intersecting and interconnecting crises and so the solutions have to be as well.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
This illustration can convey a representation of "eco-anxiety" — "chronic fear of environmental doom." AD_Images / Pixabay

As the climate crisis takes on more urgency, psychologists around the world are seeing an increase in the number of children sitting in their offices suffering from 'eco-anxiety,' which the American Psychological Association described as a "chronic fear of environmental doom," as EcoWatch reported.

Read More Show Less
Electric cars recharge at public charging stations. Sven Loeffler / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Ben Jervey

Drivers of electric cars are being unfairly punished by punitive fees in several states, according to a newly published analysis by Consumer Reports. Legislators in 26 states have enacted or proposed special registration fees for electric vehicles (EVs) that the consumer advocacy group found to be more expensive than the gas taxes paid by the driver of an average new gasoline vehicle.

Read More Show Less
A plastic bag sticks to a wire fence in a remote location in the Mourne Mountains, co Down, Northern Ireland. Dave G Kelly / Moment / Getty Images

Ireland is ready to say goodbye to plastic cutlery, plastic balloon sticks and grocery items wrapped in plastic as a way to drastically reduce the amount of waste in Irish landfills, according to the Ireland's national broadcaster, RTE.

Read More Show Less