Doctors Fail to Warn Pregnant Patients About Toxic Exposures

The Next Family


A University of San Francisco study of more than 2,000 obstetricians and gynecologists nationwide found that most do not warn their patients about environmental hazards as related to pregnancy, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Although they routinely discuss smoking, alcohol, diet and weight gain, only 19 percent talk to their patients about pesticides, 12 percent discuss air pollution and only 11 percent talk about VOCs emitted from things like paint. A mere eight percent discuss phthalates, with five percent extending the discussion to BPA.

Yet studies link low levels of these chemicals in pregnancy to disruption of fetal brain and reproductive system development, as well as increased risks of birth defects, cancer, immune problems, asthma and other problems later in life.

Add this to the fact that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s nationwide monitoring program of pregnant women found 43 chemicals present in all subjects—including lead, mercury, toluene, perchlorate, bisphenol A, flame retardants, perfluorinated compounds, organochlorine pesticides and phthalates—and this shapes up to be a serious problem.

So why aren’t doctors talking to their patients about environmental factors? “Despite evidence that environmental factors contribute to many health problems, medical students report fewer than six hours of environmental health training, according to University of Texas School of Medicine researchers,” the Chronicle story reported.

A frightening example of this trend is mercury. According to the story, fetal exposure to mercury has been linked to lower IQs and other negative effects on developing brains, and an estimated 300,000 newborns each year—one out of every 14—are exposed to mercury levels that exceed those set by the EPA as safe in pregnancy.

Yet despite the fact that the dangers of mercury are well established—since 2004, the EPA and the FDA have warned pregnant women to avoid high-mercury fish like swordfish, shark and tuna; the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issues annual statements to members about the importance of avoiding these fish during pregnancy—only four out of 10 doctors discuss mercury with pregnant women, and a mere nine percent talk with their patients about PCBs, industrial compounds that are also found in fish.

What can you do? If you’re pregnant, or thinking about it, take a quick peek at this oldie-but-goodie slideshow, which presents some quick tips on how to create a safer pregnancy.


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