Disturbing New Chemical Found in Fetuses

A common consumer chemical poses health risks for newborns.

A recent study has found a disturbing exposure of the germ-killing chemical triclosan to the fetuses of pregnant women in Brooklyn.

Triclosan has been linked to reproductive and development issues in animal testing. It is often used as the active ingredient in antibacterial soaps and appears in more than 2,000 consumer products including toothpastes, body washes, school supplies and toys.

In the study, scientists tested 181 pregnant Brooklyn women, most of them black. Half tested positive for triclosan in their umbilical cord blood samples, signifying triclosan was being transferred to fetuses.


Scientists also discovered that 100 percent of the mothers contained triclosan in their urine, while 86 percent tested positive for another antibacterial chemical, triclocarban, said co-author Benny Pycke. The levels are higher than the national U.S. average and are also the first to present “body burden” data for the ways triclosan and triclocarban can remain in the body during pregnancy.

“If you cut off the source of exposure, eventually triclosan and triclocarban would quickly be diluted out, but the truth is that we have universal use of these chemicals, and therefore also universal exposure,” said Rolf Halden, the study’s lead investigator in a statement.

Co-author Laura Geer, an environmental health scientist at SUNY-Downstate Medical Center in New York, says the findings link to another study of women with high levels of butylparaben, a chemical used as a germ-killer in cosmetics. Those mothers gave birth to shorter babies than women who had lower levels of the chemical. Although she’s unsure of what impact this will have on the childrens' future, Geer says the shift in birth size could point to endocrine-disruption.

This year the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has begun investigating the use of triclosan after earlier animal studies found its ability to alter hormones. The study’s findings were presented earlier this month at the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting in San Francisco.

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Clarissa A. Leon is AlterNet's food editor. She formerly served as an investigative research assistant at The Daily Beast and The Nation Institute.