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Medical groups warn moms need more protection from toxic chemicals

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) are asking OB/GYNs to help protect mothers from toxic chemicals.

In a statement published in the October issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology, the organizations called for doctors to educate pregnant women about environmental hazards and to appeal to the government for policy changes.

"If we can raise awareness to minimize environmental exposure and maximize reproductive health then I think we will have accomplished a major goal," Dr. Linda C. Giudice, president of ASRM, said to LiveScience.

Every pregnant woman is exposed to about 43 different chemicals, the report stated. These chemicals have the potential to cause miscarriages, stillbirth and preterm birth. Many of the chemicals are consumed or absorbed, and may potentially be passed onto the fetus. This increases the chance for impaired fetal growth, low birth weight, childhood cancers, birth defects, intellectual impairment and thyroid problems.

Certain women can be at higher risk just because of the areas where they live and work. For example, low-wage immigrants who work on farms may be at higher risk of exposure to chemicals because they are in direct contact with pesticides used on crops.

Chemicals can affect dads-to-be as well. Pesticides have been linked to poor semen quality, sterility and prostate cancer in men.

It doesn't help that about 700 new chemicals enter the U.S. market annually, and more than 84,000 chemical substances are currently used in manufacturing, processing or are in products that are imported to the U.S, the authors said.

"The scary fact is that we don't have safety data on most of these chemicals even though they are everywhere -- in the air, water, soil, our food supply, and everyday products," Dr. Jeanne A. Conry, president of ACOG, said in a press release.

The report also highlighted the prevalence of bisphenol A (BPA), an alleged hormone-disrupting chemical that is used to make plastics and line metal cans, preventing corrosion. Many companies voluntarily stopped using BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups due to child development concerns, before the FDA formally banned the chemical's use in these products in 2012. The FDA has rejected an outright ban of the chemical, saying it's safe in the low levels it is found in foods.

But, recent studies have linked the chemical to health effects. BPA exposure has been linked to increased risk for childhood obesity in girls. It also may raise a kid's asthma risk, as well as their chance of developing kidney and heart disease.

The medical societies are encouraging doctors to learn about toxic chemicals that women might come in contact within their communities, and to educate pregnant mothers about how to avoid these pollutants. Any toxic agents should be reported to the proper authorities.

They asked doctors to take environmental exposure histories during preconception visits and the first prenatal appointment. Physicians should educate pregnant and breast-feeding women how to eat properly washed fresh fruits and vegetables and to avoid fish that contain high levels of methyl-mercury, including shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish.

ACOG and ASRM also asked medical professionals to advocate for policies and practices that promote healthy foods to pregnant women, and to advocate for government policy changes that would identify and get rid of toxic environmental chemicals that could pose dangers to people and their unborn fetuses.

"Lawmakers should require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and industry to define and estimate the dangers that aggregate exposure to harmful chemicals pose to pregnant women, infants, and children and act to protect these vulnerable populations," Conry said.

Dr. Jayne Morgan, chief medical officer at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), an industry group that represents U.S. chemical companies, said in a statement that it believes that the health of pregnant women, fetuses, infants and young children should be protected. However, the group took issue with the fact that many chemicals with less-proven health claims, like BPA, were lumped in with compounds like mercury or lead that are known to cause health issues.

"BPA is one of the most tested substances in use today and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly found that the evidence does not show a connection between typical exposure levels and health effects or disease," she said. "BPA is used to make the linings in food cans -- food that's an important source of nutrition for millions of Americans -- to prevent contamination and food-borne illnesses. The FDA has examined this use and scientists at FDA tell us that the trace amounts we are exposed to from materials that keep our food safe, are safe for us."

Morgan added that the ACOG and ASRM opinion ignores that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that just because toxic chemicals are in the body doesn't mean it will cause diseases or negative effects.

"Women rely on their physicians for sound medical advice and access to reliable information," she argued. "Creating confusion and alarm among expectant mothers will distract from the well-established steps doctors recommend to support a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby."

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