Nearly all pregnant women are being exposed to chemicals that cause cancer, study finds

Nearly all pregnant women are exposed to chemicals from plastics, cleaning products, clothing and other household items that scientists say may put them at a higher risk of cancer and harm their baby’s development.

University of California, San Francisco researchers tested urine samples from 171 women and found almost all had melamine and its by-product cyanuric acid present — which can come from pots, plastics, kitchen counters and pesticides. 

The vast majority had also been exposed to aromatic amines commonly leached into the surrounding environment from clothing dyes and pigments.

Dr Tracey Woodruff, a gynecologist who led the study, said the chemicals presence was a ‘serious concern’, adding to that she was worried they may have a worse impact when mixed together.

The chemicals are common making it virtually impossible to avoid them, but Woodruff said exposure could be reduced by buying less fruit and veg wrapped in plastic. 

There is no regular monitoring of these chemicals, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it is safe to be exposed to melamine below 0.06 mg per mg per two pounds of body weight.  The World Health Organization says it is safe up to 0.2 mg.

University of California, San Francisco scientists are raising concerns over chemicals from plastics, cleaning products clothes and other household items that they say could put them more at risk of cancer and harm children’s development

In the study — published today in the peer-reviewed journal Chemosphere — scientists recruited 171 pregnant women from a national survey.

They were about 29 years old on average, and the majority were hispanic (40 percent) or white (34 percent) from the United States.

About 68 percent were married or living with a partner, while 46 percent had obtained at least a bachelors degree.

EPA to designate chemicals found on kitchenware and in food wrapping as ‘hazardous’ 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to designate ‘forever chemicals’ found in some tap water, food packaging and kitchenware as hazardous material, it was revealed yesterday — as experts have learned in recent months that they are more dangerous than previous believed.

The EPA is proposing the new designation for the chemicals under the Superfund Act – a 1980 law set on removing hazardous material from the environment. Under the new designation, the regulatory agency will have more funds to track and clean the chemicals in rivers, lakes and other groundwater.

It comes as growing evidence shows the chemicals are much more dangerous than previously believed. Often found on non-stick cookware, waterproof clothing and in tap water and shampoo, increased research has emerged in recent months finding that exposure to the chemicals can lead to liver cancer, birth defects and more long-term health issues.

This will be the second major action taken by the EPA in recent months to combat forever chemicals. In June, the agency slashed the maximum amount allowed on a household product to meet safety standards by 99 percent in a drastic move to limit exposure.

Each gave at least 14 urine samples from date of pregnancy from 2008 until the study end in 2020.

Results showed 170 had melamine present in their samples while all of the women had cyanuric acid. 

Nearly all the women also had three of the 13 aromatic amines studied in their urine samples. These were aniline, Methylenedianiline and Ortho/meta-Toluidine.

But they were present in very low concentrations. The cyanuric acid was present in 27 nano-grams (ng) per ml on average, while the melamine was in 1.6ng/ml.

This was far below the WHO’s level of concern, at 0.2mg for melamine — or 125,000 times lower.

But Tuffman told that more investigation was needed into the industrially-made chemicals.

She said: ‘These chemicals are of serious concern due to their links to cancer and developmental toxicity, yet are not routinely monitored in the United States.

‘One reason we are concerned is that multiple exposures to these chemicals and mixing them together could have higher risks.

‘The other is these poisoning incidents [such as in 2008 when six children died].’

‘What we are finding is almost all women had measurable levels of these chemicals. They may not be a large risk, but it could be an important one… and they appear at a very critical point in development.’

She called for more funding to investigate the impact of the chemicals on people, saying little work has been done to date.

There is particular concern around melamine after it was linked to the deaths of six babies in 2008.

It is commonly used in plastics, meaning it is already becoming ubiquitious as these break down in the environment into microplastics.

There are already concerns about the chemical being in high concentrations, or being put into a microwave where it reacts with the waves. Health officials say to only microwave pots that are marked with ‘microwave safe’. 

It was added to milk to boost the protein content, but ended up making 300,000 ill and gave several serious kidney problems. It is particularly linked to the development of kidney stones.

More concerns were raised the year before when it was also added to pet food, leading to more than 100 animal deaths and 500 cases of kidney failure.

More work is needed to establish the risks from cyanuric acid — present in some pesticides and in pools to make chlorine last longer — and aromatic amines.

Tuffman explained the scientists decided to do the study after finding there was ‘basically no information’ on the chemicals in national libraries despite them being widespread.

They are now monitoring 5,000 pregnant women to see whether they have also been exposed to the chemicals and in what quantities. Results are expected early next year.

She added: ‘These are the kind of studies that are so important to invest in as we need to understand all these chemicals that we are using. 

‘We don’t have enough information about their health effects. It highlights how we need to know this as a priority before people start to get sick.’