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Toxics Found in Pregnant U.S. Women in UCSF Study

Multiple chemicals, including some banned since the 1970s and others used in items such as nonstick cookware, furniture, processed foods and beauty products, were found in the blood and urine of pregnant U.S. women, according to a UCSF study being released today.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, marks the first time that the number of chemicals to which pregnant women are exposed has been counted, the authors said.

Of the 163 chemicals studied, 43 of them were found in virtually all 268 pregnant women in the study. They included polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, a prohibited chemical linked to cancer and other health problems; organochlorine pesticides; polybrominated diphenyl ethers, banned compounds used as flame retardants; and phthalates, which are shown to cause hormone disruption.

Some of these chemicals were banned before many of the women were even born.

The presence of the chemicals in the women, who ranged in age from 15 to 44, shows the ability of these substances to endure in the environment and in human bodies as well, said lead author Tracey Woodruff, director of the UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment.

A call for action

Woodruff said people have the ability to reduce but, as the findings show, not eliminate their exposure to chemicals. "We want to show people this is an issue we want the government to pay attention to and address," she said.

The study focused on pregnant women because of the potential for exposure to multiple chemicals to hurt their unborn fetuses, but also looked at the data for nonpregnant women. The research did not follow the subjects to determine whether actual harm occurred.