Risk of Birth Defects Increased By Workplace Chemical Exposure: Study

French researchers indicate that pregnant women who are exposed to some common workplace solvents may face a greater risk of having a child with birth defects and malformations. 

A study published last month in the medical journal Epidemiology, found that pregnant women with high amounts of chemicals that contain bleach and glycol ethers in their urine, were more likely to give birth to a child with cleft palate, cleft lip or other malformations.

Almost half of the women who gave birth to babies with major birth defects were found to have been regularly exposed to solvents in the workplace, the researchers found.

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The study looked at 3,421 women and questioned them on their exposure to solvents at work, as well as collected urine samples. About 3% of the women involved in the study gave birth to children who had birth defects.

Researchers found that 45% of the women who later gave birth to children with major malformations had previously indicated that they worked regularly with solvents, including nurses, beauticians, chemists and cleaners. Only 28% of women who had babies without birth defects worked around such solvents regularly.

The researchers said they found a dose-response relationship between occupational solvents and the rate of the birth defects, especially those including oral cleft, urinary tract malformations and male genital malformations.

However, only one-in-five of the women who participated in the study gave urine samples while the rest filled out questionnaires. While the researchers admit that the study’s small size is problematic, they say their findings do call for further investigation.

Cleft palate and cleft lip occur when parts of the lip or palate fail to completely fuse together. The defect results in the child being born with defects as small as a notched lip to extreme as an open groove that goes from the roof of the mouth to the nose. Cleft palate and cleft lip can cause problems eating and talking and can increase the risk of ear infections, resulting in the need for corrective surgery.

User of certain medications during pregnancy have also been linked to an increased risk of birth defects and malformations, including the anti-epilepsy drug Topamax and SSRI antidepressants, such as Zoloft.


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