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Common antibacterial chemicals pose potential risk to fetuses

According to a new study, compounds in common antibacterial products may pose health risks to pregnant women and their fetuses.
According to a new study, compounds in common antibacterial products may pose health risks to pregnant women and their fetuses.
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A small study suggests that many pregnant women and their unborn babies are being exposed to common antibacterial compounds that may lead to developmental and reproductive problems. The study was presented in an Aug. 10 session of the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

According to an ACS news release, the study provides the first human biomontoring data for triclosan and triclocarban – two of the most common germ-killing chemicals found in more than 2,000 everyday products marketed as antimicrobial, including soaps, toothpaste, detergents, carpets, paints, school supplies and toys.

As part of the study, researchers took urine and umbilical cord blood samples from 181 expectant mothers in Brooklyn, N.Y. Study participants were multiethnic and were recruited from 2007 to 2009.

“We found triclosan in all of the urine samples from the pregnant women that we screened,” co-author Benny Pycke, PhD, a research scientist at Arizona State University (ASU), said in the news release. “We also detected it in about half of the umbilical cord blood samples we took, which means it transfers to fetuses. Triclocarban was also in many of the samples,” he added.

The risk, said Pycke, is that there is growing evidence that the chemicals can lead to developmental and reproductive problems in animals and potentially in humans. There is also great concern that the additives could contribute to antibiotic resistance.

As a result of animal studies that showed triclosan can affect the way hormones function, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is reviewing the safety of the chemical. This kind of interference – known as endocrine disruption – can potentially affect the development of the fetus, study co-author Laura Geer, PhD, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at SUNY Downstate School of Public Health, told HealthDay.

“These compounds have endocrine-disrupting potential, and the fetus is particularly vulnerable during its development to hormone changes,” Geer said.

In addition, the researchers found butyl paraben, another antibacterial agent commonly found in cosmetics, in the urine and cord blood samples of study participants. Their findings showed a link between the compound and shorter lengths in newborns. If this finding is confirmed in larger studies, said Geer in the ACS news release, it could mean that widespread exposure to butyl paraben might cause a subtle, but large-scale shift in birth sizes.

State policymakers, the FDA and industry have taken notice of the mounting evidence against triclosan. Minnesota is the first state to pass a ban on the use of antimicrobials in certain products, becoming effective January 2017. Prominent manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble have announced that they are phasing out the compound from some products. At the federal level, the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are reviewing the use and effects of the compounds.