Chemicals in Newborns & What We Can Do

Health + Fitness

Ken Cook
Ken Cook, President, EWG





By Ken Cook

Today, virtually every American newborn arrives with hundreds of industrial pollutants in its blood.* This before the child has taken more than a breath or two and had his first sip of breast milk or formula.

How did this happen?  The primary reason for in utero chemical contamination is the mother’s exposure to pollutants, pesticides and industrial chemicals.  Much of the blame for all this unavoidable contamination falls on the federal Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. This law represents Congress’s first attempt to regulate the chemical industry and safeguard people and the environment from toxic exposures.

Unfortunately, its execution has been nothing short of a disaster.  Some 83,000 chemicals are in commerce.  The companies that make them have not had to prove that they are safe before they add them to the consumer goods that fill our homes, schools and businesses.

For decades scientists have been testing air, earth and water for pollution.  Those analyses have helped identify contaminants in the environment and pinpoint their sources.  However, until 2004 there was almost no research looking into industrial pollution in people, particularly infants in the womb.

My colleagues and I decided it was time to take a look. We sent samples of umbilical cord blood from 10 babies to a lab that analyzed each for manmade chemicals. We found a total of 287 contaminants, with an average of 200 in the blood of each baby.

Not long ago scientists thought that the placenta shielded cord blood — and the developing fetus — from most pollutants.   But our research and similar cord blood testing established that during the critical window of development, the umbilical cord carries not only oxygen and nutrients to the growing fetus, but also a steady stream of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides.

We’ve since tested cord blood from another 10 American babies and found a longer list of worrisome chemicals, many of them associated with serious health problems such as cancer, diabetes, infertility, behavioral issues, neurological and reproductive system abnormalities, early puberty, food allergies and other chronic conditions.

The ecosystem is awash in industrial chemicals. The American people are paying the price.  Each of us is walking around with a body burden of pollutants, the consequences of which are unknown.

There is some cause for optimism.  President Obama, Congressional leaders and the chemical industry agree with us and other advocates for health and the environment that federal toxic chemicals control policy is broken and must fixed to address the threats of the 21st Century.  Reform legislation called the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act is gathering momentum on Capitol Hill.  It aims to force industry to conduct rigorous tests to prove chemicals are safe before they can be introduced into the market. 

We are advocating that provisions on the new policy give top priority to chemicals that turn up in cord blood. If something is shown to infiltrate the womb, unless it can be shown to be safe, it should be banned for good. 

Ken Cook is the president of the Environmental Working Group, which he co-founded in 1993. He is the author of dozens of articles, opinion pieces and reports on environmental, public health and agricultural topics. Cook earned B.A., B.S., and M.S. degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He lives in Bethesda, MD with his wife Deb Callahan and their young son, Cal.

*All adults, including pregnant women, carry a body burden of industrial chemicals, and as the EWG cord blood studies prove, the placenta does not shield the fetus from those pollutants. For more on the  biomonitoring research conducted and commissioned by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, visit

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  • Shocking, yet sadly not surprising. Thanks very much for this article. Had there been a "Dateline" or the like on this?

    Posted by GraceConroy, 8 May 2010.

  • This mission to clean up our planet has taken priority in my life and my passion is to witness more Americans take notice of how toxic our environment is, especially our water. After extensive research and seeing the effects of drinking alkaline water from my SD501 water filtration/ionization system by Enagic, I encourage everyone to assess their priorities and be mindful of drinking pure alkaline water for optimum health benefits, and also realize that there is then no need for buying bottled water. Please visit my site and let's all work together as you "change your water and change your life". Thank you ~ Nancy Ferrari

    Posted by NFerrari24, 15 April 2010.

  • I am saddened by the state ow the world's environmental health. I wrote a book, Bee Quiet to inspire the world to go green. I mention in the book about the 200+ chemicals in newborns with credit to ewg.

    Here is a poem I wrote a couple months ago.

    The Road Ahead

    Daily 130 species go extinct
    from the Earth.
    All because man does not
    value their worth.

    Excess CO2 is acidifying
    the oceans.
    The home of marine life
    limiting their motion.

    70% of our food is
    genetically modified.
    With the FDAs blessing
    giving it a free ride.

    The contamination of our world
    is out of control.
    No one is doing anything
    to slow the heavy toll.

    Babies are born
    with 200 toxic chemicals
    in their system.
    Why are we all asleep?
    No ones activating and listening.

    So, which road will we
    consciously choose to take?
    We have to get busy now
    for our children’s sake.

    If not NOW, then when?
    If not us, then who?
    The road ahead is up to me
    and you.

    The road ahead for the planet’s
    environmental health is very grim.
    We have to get busy now
    to green it up again.

    So my love for our world
    caused me to write an eco-solution book.
    I’m asking you to read it
    to take an earnest look

    Why is environmental health
    to some politicians so opposable?
    Wake up and realize that
    Our children’s futures
    are not disposable!

    By Elaine Carter C 2010
    Elaine Carter aka Simply EL is the author of eco-thriller, sci-fi novel, Bee Quiet.
    Bee Quiet was written to inspire the world to go green. Putting planet before profit, Bee Quiet can be read for free at,

    Posted by Beequiet, 14 April 2010.