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A Womb of One's Own

by Anna Fahey

The womb is not free of toxic pollution.

image_mini.jpeg This week, the Washington Toxics Coalition released a study that should raise the ire of pregnant women like me. Their findings in a nutshell: developing fetuses spend their first nine months in an environment that exposes them to a range known toxic chemicals. That environment? Their mothers’ bodies. That means my body.

The first-of-its kind study analyzed blood and urine samples from nine women in Washington, Oregon, and California during their second trimester of pregnancy, to test for 23 chemicals from five chemical groups. Their bodies were found to be contaminated with 13 of the 23 chemicals. “These chemicals can cause reproductive problems and cancer, disrupt hormonal systems such as the thyroid, and can impair brain development,” the study states.

So, why is my response ire and not panic? I guess I’m over the panic. During my pregnancy, I’ve been reading a lot about the toxics in my body and their potential effects on the fetus (and I'll be writing a lot more about this stuff in this blog series). I realize it’s too late for panic. Contrary to popular belief, my womb is not entirely my own.

I’m with the woman from this Seattle Post Globe story, Kim Radtke, who’s just plain angry. Like me, she made all the right personal decisions about her health and her pregnancy—she eats organic foods, she’s been meticulous about the products she uses, she's a midwife who's very conscious about healthy choices. Naturally, she was dismayed to learn she rated worst among the West Coast women tested for a particular class of chemicals: perfluorinated compounds. They’re used to make Teflon pans, clothing, furniture, and food packaging such as pizza boxes and fast-food containers. “That really kills me as a mom,” Radtke told the Post Globe. “I took the best care I could possible, yet this was beyond my control.”

Every woman tested was found to have been exposed to bisphenol A, delivered in such things as the lining of food cans. Each woman’s body carried two to four “Teflon chemicals”-- PFCs. All had detectable levels of mercury, known to harm brain development. And every woman was exposed to at least four phthalates, a class of chemicals that includes plasticizers and fragrance carriers found in ordinary items such as vinyl shower curtains and scented shampoos.

As the study points out, “the developing fetus is exquisitely vulnerable to the effects of toxic chemicals,” as it possesses “only a small proportion of the adult’s ability to detoxify foreign chemicals” while it “develops at a breakneck pace in the womb.”

The research project, by Washington Toxics Coalition staff scientist Erika Shreder, was conducted to spur legislators in Washington State and Washington, DC, to continue to rein in harmful chemicals in consumer products--and at the very least demand responsible labeling and disclosure by manufacturers. As the Post Globe reports, Washington State Rep. Mary Lou
Dickerson, D-Seattle
, says she will push for passage of the Safe Baby
Bottle Act
, which she introduced last year. (Yes, there are harmful chemicals in baby bottles--of all things!) It passed the House, but not Senate. It would prohibit Bisphenol A in baby bottles, children's food containers and sports water bottles. (The bill doesn’t extend to the Bisphenol A in the linings of canned foods.)

These are baby steps toward wombs that aren’t tainted with chemicals--and toward healthier moms and babies. But this is exactly the kind of policy where moms and moms-to-be should direct their energy—whether it’s panic- or anger-driven...or something else.

This piece originally appeared on Sightline Daily.

Image Credit: Mahalie via Flickr, Creative Commons License.

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Bill McDonough possesses a toxicology database covering over nine-thousand compounds. I think it should be federal law that any product coming into extended contact with any organism is forbidden from containing any of these substances.

Posted by: Victor Escobar on 21 Nov 09

Ever seen the movie Safe with Julianne Moore?
I feel that way a lot.

Posted by: Tim on 21 Nov 09

This is amazing. It seems as though we should all live in a protective bubble.

"I am here to serve."
The Window Man

Posted by: The Window Man on 26 Nov 09

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