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Study shows toxic cosmetic chemicals in developing babies

By Simon Pitman , 08-Sep-2005

A new study commissioned by the WWF and Greenpeace reveals that alarming levels of chemicals commonly found in personal care products in baby's umbilical cords, providing more clout for campaigners aiming to clamp down on potential causes of toxicity.

The results for the study, which was carried out at the University Hospital Groningen in the Netherlands using volunteers, are published under the title A Present For Life. It reveals that a variety of chemicals, mainly from the phthalates family and used in every day cosmetics ranging from toothpaste to deodorants, can enter unborn babies' bodies through the umbilical cord.

The study, which took into count a total of 35 different chemicals, also considered a variety of other commonly used consumer goods, ranging from household cleaners, plastic packaging and those with water-proof coatings.

Tests taken from the umbilical cords of nearly 27 new-born babies and from more than 42 new mothers were analysed from the presence of eight groups of chemicals, which also included artificial musks.

The research showed that all umbilical cords contained a minimum of five of the 35 chemicals tested, with some containing as many as 14. Two of the mother's tested positive for 17 of the 35 chemicals in their blood.

As well pointing out the possible effects on genetalia development of some of the chemicals, the report highlights the effects they can have on children's brains and intelligence.

Both Greenpeace and WWF are calling on legislators to put public interest first when it comes to the legislation surrounding these chemicals. Currently European legislation for chemicals in consumer products is being reshaped through the REACH programme, which aims to provide greater protection, both to humans and the environment.

Andrew Lee, director of campaigns for WWF-UK said: "These chemicals should not be in products, let alone in developing babies. The EU has a once in a generation opportunity to control hazardous chemicals with new REACH legislation - it is vital for the health of future generations that this legislation is effective."

Helen Perivier, Toxics Campaigner for Greenpeace International said: "Babies feeding through the umbilical cord are exposed to toxic chemicals from products like vinyl plastics, cleaning products, electronics and perfumes. It is shocking that such chemicals are in the human body at any stage of our life, let alone at the very start, when the child is most vulnerable."

The medical profession has given a mixed reception to the findings though, with some pointing out that as well as the placenta acting as a filter to many toxins, unborn babies are also equipped to rid toxins from their bodies.

Likewise industry has reacted to the study by pointing out the fact that the level of these chemicals in cosmetics products is miniscule, and thus does not pose a health threat to individuals.

They have also pointed out that restrictions on the use of certain chemicals, particulary for cosmetic products, have never been tougher, both in Europe and the US.

Although there are over 100,000 chemicals available on the global market, a host of potentially dangerous chemicals have been banned in cosmetics formulations over recent years, to be replaced with safer substitutes. Indeed, in Europe all but a handful of chemicals from the phthalate family have now been outlawed.

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