By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent
Thu Jul 14,11:28 AM ET
stew of chemicals, including mercury, gasoline byproducts and
pesticides, according to a report released on Thursday.
Although the effects on the babies are not clear, the
survey prompted several members of Congress to press for
legislation that would strengthen controls on chemicals in the
The report by the Environmental Working Group is based on
tests of 10 samples of umbilical-cord blood taken by the
American Red Cross. They found an average of 287 contaminants
in the blood, including mercury, fire retardants, pesticides
and the Teflon chemical PFOA.
“These 10 newborn babies … were born polluted,” said New
York Rep. Louise Slaughter, who spoke a news conference about
the findings on Thursday.
“If ever we had proof that our nation’s pollution laws
aren’t working, it’s reading the list of industrial chemicals
in the bodies of babies who have not yet lived outside the
womb,” Slaughter, a Democrat, said.
Cord blood reflects what the mother passes to the baby
through the placenta.
“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 report
Blood tests did not show how the chemicals got into the
mothers’ bodies, or what their effects might be on the babies.
MERCURY AND PESTICIDES
Among the chemicals found in the cord blood were
methylmercury, produced by coal-fired power plants and certain
industrial processes. People can breathe it in or eat it in
seafood and it causes brain and nerve damage.
Also found were polyaromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which
are produced by burning gasoline and garbage and which may
cause cancer; flame-retardant chemicals called polybrominated
dibenzodioxins and furans; and pesticides including DDT and
The same group analyzed the breast milk of mothers across
the United States in 2003 and found varying levels of
chemicals, including flame retardants known as PBDEs. This
latest analysis also found PBDEs in cord blood.
Slaughter had similar tests done on her own blood.
“The stunning results show chemicals daily pumping through
my vital organs that include PCBs that were banned decades ago
as well as chemicals like Teflon that are currently under
federal investigation,” she said in remarks prepared for the
“I have auto exhaust fumes, flame retardant chemicals, and
in all, some 271 harmful substances pulsing through my veins.
That’s hardly the picture of health I had hoped for, but I’ve
been living in an industrial society for over 70 years.”
The Government Accountability Office issued a report on
Wednesday saying the Environmental Protection Agency does not
have the powers it needs to fully regulate toxic chemicals.
The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, found that the
EPA’s Toxic Substances Control Act gives only “limited
assurance” that new chemicals entering the market are safe and
said the EPA only rarely assesses chemicals already on the
“Today, chemicals are being used to make baby bottles, food
packaging and other products that have never been fully
evaluated for their health effects on children — and some of
these chemicals are turning up in our blood,” said New Jersey
Democrat Sen. Frank Lautenberg (news, bio, voting record), who plans to co-sponsor a bill
to require chemical manufacturers to provide data to the EPA on
the health affects of their products.