Umbilical Cord Study Finds Canadian Babies Polluted Before Birth

“Pre-polluted” babies alarm environmentalists


A Canadian environmental group tested the umbilical cords of three babies in Canada and concluded that Canadian babies are polluted before birth. Environmental Defence tested umbilical cords of these infants at birth in the cities of Toronto and Hamilton and detected a large of number environmental chemicals in them.

The report, entitled, “Pre-Polluted: A Report on Toxic Substances in the Umbilical Cord Blood of Canadian Newborns,” was released Wednesday. It said the number of harmful chemicals in their findings totaled 137 and the number of pollutants in each of the baby’s umbilical cords ranged from 44 to 121.

This finding raises concerns that new-born children are exposed to pollutants in the womb. The study said this is because chemical toxins are pervasive in the environment and in consumer goods. Some of these pollutants have been linked to cancer and other developmental challenges.

According to researchers, their findings were worrisome. Unlike an adult, a fetus can absorb higher levels of chemicals because of its rapid growth. In addition, a fetus is not able to flush out chemicals as efficiently as an adult, because their “detoxification mechanisms” are still in the process of developing.

“This is evidence that our babies — who are extremely vulnerable — are being burdened with a toxic chemical load before they are born,” Maggie MacDonald, the organization’s toxics program manager, said.

A more worrisome issue, according to the report, is that a fetus is going through rapid cell division. Some harmful chemicals mimic the effects of hormones that play a major role in the proper development of the fetus and maintain a healthy pregnancy.

MacDonald, stated it is not possible for expectant mothers to protect their children from toxic chemicals, because these chemicals are so widespread in our environment.

“We want to tell mothers it’s not their fault that their babies are being polluted with these toxic chemicals,” she told reporters.

Toxins that were found in the babies’ umbilical cords study were flame retardants, lead, organochlorine pesticides and perfluorochemical (PFCs), a chemical found in non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpets and fabrics, coatings on some food packaging such as microwave popcorn bags, and fast food wrappers.

In addition, some banned chemicals were also detected in the study’s findings, suggesting that toxic chemical can persist in our bodies and in the environment for years.

The group expressed concern that their findings indicated that infants are exposed to chemicals in the womb because of the widespread pervasiveness of these pollutants in the environment and in consumer goods.

“Canadians should have the right to live in a clean, healthy environment. But our tests indicate that before birth, our bodies are already contaminated by hazardous chemicals, some of which have been banned for decades,” the reports said.

MacDonald says consumers reduce the effects of harmful chemicals by not buying products that contain “chemicals of convenience,” such as fabrics with stain repellents or non-stick cookware. “That then influences industry to stop using these chemicals in their products,” she said.

In addition, she suggested, Canadians demand change through petitions and by making their voices heard. She added governments can act by testing chemicals in products before they go on the marketplace.

“And when it’s decided between scientists and governments that certain chemicals are toxic to humans, clear, strict timelines need to be set so that these chemicals can be eliminated from our lives,” she said.

In response to the study, Douglas Haines, director of Health Canada’s Chemicals Surveillance Bureau, said it was too early to conclude how bad the exposure is on the human body.

“I certainly wouldn’t say it’s cause for panic,” he said told reporters. “The levels that being found are relatively low and the potential impacts are very, very small and subtle.”

Haines emphasized Health Canada is heavily involved in studying the potential health impacts of chemical exposures “so that we can better use that information as part of the health assessments and decisions that governments make to manage those risks to the Canadian population.”

In a related development, Health Canada and scientists at the University of Montreal are now testing 2,000 Canadian moms and babies in their own environmental chemicals study to determine influence of these toxins on the body and brain. The goal of the joint study is to assess the burden of environmental chemicals placed on mothers and infants and determine the effects of exposure on infant development and growth.

“We have recruited in 10 cities approximately 2,000 mother-infant pairs,” William Fraser of the University of Montreal said. “The goal of the study is to determine the burden of environmental chemicals that mothers and infants are carrying, and also to assess the effects of exposure on infant development and growth.”

The study’s results are expected to be revealed next year.

By Perviz Walji

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