Pregnant women exposed to cancer-causing chemicals virtually everywhere

SAN FRANCISCO — Unsettling research reveals that pregnant women are routinely being exposed to chemicals known to both increase cancer risk and potentially harm child development. These chemicals, such as melamine, cyanuric acid, and aromatic amines, are virtually everywhere; hair coloring products, drinking water, dish-ware, plastics, and even the very air we breathe.

Melamine and cyanuric acid were discovered among nearly all examined participant samples. Notably, however, the highest levels of these chemicals were recorded in women of color and those with more exposure to tobacco. Similarly, four aromatic amines typically found in products containing dyes or pigments were also discovered in nearly all pregnant participants.

Researchers also say that exposure to melamine and aromatic amines can occur via a variety of avenues; by breathing in contaminated air, eating contaminated food, ingesting household dust, drinking contaminated water, or the use of products containing plastic, dyes, and pigments.

“These chemicals are of serious concern due to their links to cancer and developmental toxicity, yet they are not routinely monitored in the United States,” says co-senior study author Tracey J. Woodruff, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine who directs the UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, in a statement..

Melamine, and its primary byproduct cyanuric acid, are both classified as high production chemicals exceeding 100 million pounds annually in the United States alone. Exposure to both of these chemical simultaneously can be much more toxic than exposure to just one. Melamine can be found in any number of dish-ware products, plastics, flooring, kitchen counters, and pesticides. Cyanuric acid, on the other hand, is usually used as a disinfectant, plastic stabilizer, and cleaning solvent for swimming pools. Finally, aromatic amines can be found in hair dye, mascara, tattoo ink, paint, tobacco smoke, and diesel exhaust.

Pregnant women of color especially at risk

For quite some time, melamine has been recognized as a kidney toxicant. It became prominent among health advocates following baby formula and pet food poisoning incidents in 2004, 2007, and 2008 that resulted in numerous deaths, kidney stone diagnoses, and urinary tract obstructions. Additionally, animal studies indicate melamine may impede brain function.

To research this issue, study authors measured 45 chemicals associated with cancer and other risks by making use of a new method of capturing chemicals or chemical traces in urine samples. The sample group was small but diverse; 171 women who had been taking part in a national study from 2008 to 2020. Participants hailed from Puerto Rico, New York, California, Georgia, Illinois, and New Hampshire. Roughly a third (34%) were White, while 40 percent were Latina, 20 percent were African American, four percent were Asian, and three percent were from other or multiple racial groups.

“It’s disconcerting that we continue to find higher levels of many of these harmful chemicals in people of color,” notes study co-senior author Jessie Buckley, PhD, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

For instance, levels of 3,4-dichloroaniline (a chemical used to produce dyes and pesticides) were more than 100 percent (!) higher among Black and Hispanic women in comparison to White women.

“Our findings raise concerns for the health of pregnant women and fetuses, since some of these chemicals are known carcinogens and potential developmental toxicants,” concludes first study author Giehae Choi, postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Regulatory action is clearly needed to limit exposure.”

The study is published in Chemosphere.

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About the Author

John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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