Doctors: Environmental chemicals threaten reproductive health

A new report insists we don't know enough about the toxic chemicals that Americans are exposed to daily

Topics: environmental toxins, pesticides, mercury, BPA, Pregnancy, reproductive health, ,

Potentially toxic chemicals are in the air we breathe and the water we drink; in our food and in myriad everyday products we come across. And though they may well be impossible to avoid entirely, the nation’s largest groups of obstetricians and fertility specialists said Monday that both men and women need to be more aware of the specific risks environmental chemicals — like mercury, pesticides and BPA — pose to their fertility and reproductive health.

The joint report, from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, argues that better environmental policies are needed to identify and then reduce exposure to such chemicals. According to the Associated Press:

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Few chemicals hit the market with good information about safe levels — something the groups hope to change. But certain chemicals are linked to infertility, miscarriages, birth defects and other problems, the committee said.

But the report also cited research suggesting virtually every pregnant woman is exposed to at least 43 different chemicals. It’s unclear how many matter, but some can reach the fetus. For example, mercury pollution builds up in certain fish, and when eaten by a mother-to-be, can damage her unborn baby’s developing brain. Prenatal exposure to certain pesticides can increase the risk of childhood cancer, the report found.

They also cite studies indicating that pesticide exposure is linked to sterility and prostate cancer in adult men.

The report’s authors insist they’re not trying to be alarmist, and the changes encouraged by report aren’t aimed at patients (also they do recommend that pregnant women wash fruits and vegetables carefully and avoid certain fish, like albacore tuna, known to contain high levels of mercury). Instead, they put the onus on regulators to work to minimize risk.

“To successfully study the impact of these chemical exposures, we must shift the burden of proof from the individual health care provider and the consumer to the manufacturers before any chemicals are even released into the environment,” Dr. Jeanne Conry, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a statement.

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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