cosmetics, perfumes and
other fragrances were detected along with dozens of other industrial
compounds in the umbilical cords of African American, Asian and Latino
infants in the United States, according to a national study released
Laboratory tests paid for by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group
and Rachel's Network found 232 chemicals and pollutants in the
umbilical cords of the 10 babies tested in five states between December
2007 and June 2008.
"It is not a surprise because studies for many years have shown
synthetic and industrial chemicals in humans, but it is particularly
concerning that the developing fetus is being exposed," said Megan
Schwarzman, a family physician at San Francisco General Hospital and a
research scientist in environmental public health at UC Berkeley. "This
is a particularly vulnerable time, and there is no reason for the
chemicals to be there."
It was the 11th time the working group has conducted laboratory tests
of human blood for chemicals in household and industrial products.
Overall, the working group, which focuses on environmental health
issues, found 414 chemicals and pollutants in 186 people of all ages
and races, including Caucasians.
The latest study was the first time newborns of minority mothers were
Representatives of the study group admitted that the sample of newborns
from California, Michigan, Florida, Massachusetts and Wisconsin was too
small for them to draw any definitive conclusions about race. The
results are nevertheless likely to provide new ammunition in the effort
to tighten regulations of consumer products and force cosmetic
companies to list their ingredients.
Seven of the 10 babies had in their umbilical cord blood synthetic
musks known as Galaxolide and Tonalide, which are toxic to aquatic life
and have been shown in preliminary studies to cause hormonal changes.
The musk is used in scented soaps, perfumes and colognes, indicating
the infants were contaminated by cosmetics their mothers used.
"It means the chemicals are crossing the placenta and getting into
babies in the womb," said Stacy Malkan, a member of San Francisco's
Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the author of "Not Just a Pretty Face:
The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry."
Another chemical found in the umbilical cords was bisphenol A, or BPA,
a synthetic estrogen used in plastics that has been linked to breast
cancer and hormonal problems. A study of Chinese factory workers
released last month found an increased risk of sexual dysfunction from
exposure to large amounts of the chemical.
It was the first time the synthetic musks and BPA were found in
Products used in flame retardants, rocket fuels, on frying pans and in
computer circuit boards were found in the infants in addition to lead,
mercury and known carcinogens, according to the study.
Despite this stark evidence of contamination, cosmetics companies do
not have to list synthetic chemicals in their products because
fragrances are considered trade secrets.
"You won't find these chemicals on the label of your favorite perfume
because companies don't have to tell us what is in a fragrance," Malkan
said. "That's just wrong. Consumers have the right to know what
chemicals we are putting into our bodies."
On Wednesday, California and 12 other states issued a joint statement
saying federal laws designed to protect the public from toxic chemicals
are too weak. The statement asked for changes that would protect
vulnerable populations by identifying and regulating the chemicals in
The cosmetic industry and petrochemical companies have fought efforts
in Congress to reform cosmetic industry regulations, which were first
drawn up in 1938 and have remained virtually unchanged.
Both the House and Senate are considering bills to ban bisphenol A in
food and beverage containers. The bills, by Sen. Dianne Feinstein,
D-Calif., and Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., would protect pregnant
women, their children and other consumers from the hormone-disrupting
chemical that is used in plastic baby bottles, food containers and in
the lining of food cans.
The Environmental Working Group study urges immediate action to prevent
further exposure to chemicals.
"Each time we look for the latest chemical of concern in infant cord
blood, we find it," said Anila Jacob, the group's senior scientist and
co-author of the report. "Our results strongly suggest that the health
of all children is threatened by trace amounts of hundreds of synthetic
chemicals coursing through their bodies from the earliest stages of