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E-M:/ Michigan Study Shows Risks to Developing Kids

Enviro-Mich message from Tracey Easthope <tracey@ecocenter.org>

 From a study released today:

"In addition to the high levels of lead exposure, researchers found a
wide range of exposure to the other measured substances. For instance,
PCBs and DDT, which can lead to reduced IQ and other developmental
problems, were found in a about 15 percent of the samples. Mercury and
cadmium also showed up in 15 percent of the samples, while the
tobacco-related compound cotinine was found in more than 30 percent of
the samples."


AScribe Newswire
May 29, 2003

Press Release

Dirty Diapers Help Researchers Pinpoint Fetal Health Risks

        KALAMAZOO, Mich., May 29 (AScribe Newswire) -- A team of
researchers, up to their elbows in more than 800 sets of dirty diapers,
have turned the experience into what may be some of the first conclusive
evidence that environmental pollutants can impact the health and future
prospects of children, even before they're born.

        Western Michigan University researchers, working in cooperation
with Kalamazoo's two major hospitals and Michigan State University's
Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies, have determined that a startling
50 percent of children born in the area during a 10-month period in 2002
were exposed to lead while still in the womb, and about 5 percent of
babies born had already suffered lead exposure at levels typically
associated with neurological problems.

        Exposure in the womb to lead and other toxic chemicals was
analyzed by collecting blood from umbilical cords as well as meconium
samples from the first sets of diapers soiled by newborns. Meconium is
the bowel discharge from infants during their first 24 to 48 hours of
life and reflects the accumulation of bile secreted during the last five
months of gestation.

        "What we've done is develop a way to look at the earliest
potential impact of substances on fetal development," says Dr. Jay
Means, WMU's Gwen Frostic Professor of Environmental Chemistry and
Toxicology and the lead researcher. "We know that many of these
substances have their most profound effects on the developing child, but
so little is known about the exposure of a significant percentage of the
population to these substances. This gives us a snapshot of that

        Means says the selection of meconium as a sample to be analyzed
along with the cord blood helps rule out the possibility that the
babies' exposure came in any way other than through the placental blood

        "It's unambiguous," he says of the resulting data. "As soon as
the child starts to nurse or eat from other sources, you raise the
possibility of another outside source of contamination."

        Beginning in March 2002, Means along with Dr. Michael Liepman,
director of psychiatry research at MSU/KCMS, and their team worked with
staff members at Borgess Medical Center and Bronson Methodist Hospital
to collect nearly 3,000 cord blood and meconium samples from newborns.
Of those samples, about 800 were complete paired samples that included
both cord blood and meconium. Samples were collected after receiving
anonymous informed consent agreements from mothers and were then
analyzed to ascertain levels of heavy metals, pesticides, PCBs and
herbicides as well as recreational and psychoactive drugs. About 200
randomly selected samples were screened to determine whether and how
much of a toxic substance was transferred across the placental blood

        Researchers screened the samples using two sophisticated mass
spectrometer systems to determine fetal exposure to heavy metals such as
lead, mercury, chromium and cadmium; toxic organic compounds like PCBs
and dioxins; and such drugs as cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine and
cotinine, which comes from nicotine. In addition to the high levels of
lead exposure, researchers found a wide range of exposure to the other
measured substances. For instance, PCBs and DDT, which can lead to
reduced IQ and other developmental problems, were found in a about 15
percent of the samples. Mercury and cadmium also showed up in 15 percent
of the samples, while the tobacco-related compound cotinine was found in
more than 30 percent of the samples.

        But it was the high incidence of lead that stunned the team,
Means says. He notes that lead exposure has been linked to mental
retardation, seizures, delays in motor development, kidney disease, and
problems with bone and tooth development. Means says that their
measurement tool--the inductively coupled plasma-mass
spectrometer--allows researchers to measure lead in infinitesimal
amounts that are far below the levels at which exposure is considered
dangerous, according to federal guidelines. But unlike other tools, this
one identifies lead with complete certainty. Its presence in so many of
the samples is troubling, he says.

        The team completed an initial round of sample collections at the
end of 2002 and, with the results of the analysis in hand, a new round
of research is about to begin. The first round was completed on a small
budget put together with funds from the WMU Office of Research, the
Kalamazoo County Healthy Babies, Healthy Start program, the National
Science Foundation and MSU/KCMS. The project owes its initial success to
what Means calls "excellent cooperation from the hospitals and the
tireless efforts of a dedicated group of undergraduate student

        An anonymous $110,000 grant to WMU's Environmental Institute will
help Means launch a new round of research. Goals for the new round
include expanding the number of infants from whom complete samples are
collected; relating the patterns of exposure to geographical,
demographic and dietary data; and adding gene expression analysis to the
tests run on the samples to determine which genes show signs of being
activated or repressed by exposure to the various toxic chemicals. He
also plans to add other substances of concern to the list of those being
studied--like polybrominated diphenyl ether, commonly known as PBDE, a
synthetic fire retardant chemical used in textiles.

        The collection of data about demographics and diet will help
pinpoint the source of exposure, says Means, and the zip code data will
allow his team to cross reference their data with known pollution "hot
spots" being documented by WMU's Great Lakes Center for Environmental
and Molecular Sciences.

        One last change to the research protocol would ease the
scientists' concern, but to accomplish it, the team may have to avoid
analyzing samples for illegal substances. Because of the possibility of
finding traces of illegal substances, the blood cord and meconium
samples were collected anonymously.

        "Without anonymity, state requirements to report children who
have been exposed to drugs of abuse during pregnancy would make it
impossible to get cooperation from mothers who abuse drugs," notes
Mean's research colleague Liepman. But because the samples are collected
anonymously, researchers now have no way to provide feedback to parents
whose children may be at risk from high exposure levels.

        "That's disturbing," Means says. "Ideally we'd like to inform
them of the problem so they can seek help. And, we'd like to follow up
with additional testing of the children down the road and the
involvement of other professionals who can help, like speech
pathologists and those with neurological expertise." Liepman agrees and
sees a world of potential benefit from the project.

        "It is possible we have stumbled upon the cause for a lot of
learning problems, such as dyslexia and attention deficit disorder and
other behavior problems of children in our schools," Liepman speculates.


Joe DiGangi

312-566-0985 phone
312-408-0682 fax

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