Troubling news for moms-to-be concerned about everyday exposures to toxins and chemicals. According to a landmark study led by researchers from the University of California-San Francisco, more than 40 chemicals, including some banned since the 1970s, were detected in blood and urine samples from a study group of almost 300 pregnant women.
Published online January 14, 2011, in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, the research marks the first time that the number of chemicals that pregnant women are exposed has been counted. Among the 43 chemicals found in the group were PBDEs, compounds used as flame retardants (now banned in many states including California), and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), an organochlorine pesticide banned in the US in 1972. Most of the chemicals detected can still be found such common household items as non-stick cookware, cosmetics, detergents, and vinyl floors.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. What's troubling about this find is that prenatal exposure to BPA has been linked to negative health outcomes, including brain development problems and increased susceptibility to cancer later in life, according to the researchers.
However, the study was not designed to identify direct connections to pregnancy complications or fetal development issues, meaning researchers still aren't quite sure what kind of risk these chemical exposures may create.
"It was surprising and concerning to find so many chemicals in pregnant women without fully knowing the implications for pregnancy," says lead author Dr. Tracey Woodruff, director of the UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment.
So what mom wouldn't be scared by this bit of news? Fortunately, cutting back on chemicals in your daily life is surprisingly simple. Try replacing non-stick frying pans with cast iron. When properly "cured," cast iron becomes naturally non-stick and can even provide your prenatal diet with iron (especially if you cook tomatoes or other acidic food in the pan). Instead of canned soups and other foods, try frozen alternatives or look for ways to make the switch to fresh. And when it comes to cleaners, go with good old vinegar and baking soda—and a little bit of elbow grease! Don't like the smell? Add a few drops of lemon essential oil to vinegar for a clean, fresh scent.