Environmental Hazards and Birth Injuries

Should Doctors Warn Expectant Mothers About Environmental Harms?

Many expectant mothers receive information from medical professionals about the risks associated with certain lifestyle choices, such as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol. However, according to a recent article from NPR News, many doctors fail to warn pregnant women about birth defects caused by environmental hazards. Specifically, obstetricians are reluctant to speak with patients about the potential dangers posed by toxic substances in the environment, such as heavy metals, solvents, and pesticides.

A research study that surveyed about 2,500 obstetricians, which was published last month in PLOS ONE, indicated that “less than 20 percent of the obstetricians reported asking women about their exposure to environmental hazards.” Why should doctors warn mothers about environmental risks or help to assess their exposure to potentially toxic substances? The research study indicated that nearly 80 percent of obstetricians believe that this type of counseling can help to prevent birth injuries.

Why are obstetricians not counseling women about environmental risks during pregnancy if expectant mothers could benefit significantly from such counseling? According to the above article, physicians stated that they are uncertain about the evidence, fear creating unnecessary anxiety in their patients, and are concerned that patients had no way to reduce their exposure. However, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) exposure to heavy metals or solvents “can cause miscarriage, birth defects, and developmental delays.” As a precaution, the CDC recommends that pregnant women who might have contact with such substances should “avoid exposure during their pregnancies.”

Toxic Substances and Birth Defects

Substances that can result in birth injuries are known as “teratogens.” While exposure to a dangerous substance while you are pregnant may not automatically mean that your child will suffer a dangerous birth defect, certain toxins can increase the risk of a serious birth injury. Indeed, the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE) at the University of California, San Francisco emphasizes that, when it comes to toxic substances, “developing fetuses . . . are especially vulnerable.”

How can you prevent the risk of birth defects caused by environmental substances? Researchers from PRHE recommend some of the following:

  • Only use personal care products that are non-toxic. While we do not often think about potential toxins in soaps or makeup, many of these products have ingredients that can harm reproductive and fetal health.
  • Do not use bug spray. Pesticides are hazardous to the health of a developing fetus. Whether you are using them in your home to kill insects, bacteria, or mold, or if you are spraying your garden outside, a developing fetus can suffer serious injuries.
  • Use a wet mop instead of a dry duster. Toxins tend to be present in dust, and dry sweeping or dusting “can spread the dust into the air instead of removing it.”
  • Try to remove or clean your shoes before you enter your home. Many toxins come into our homes on our shoes. As a result, it is important to remove shoes or wipe them on a doormat before entering the house.
  • Try to avoid exposure to dry-cleaning agents. Dry-cleaning systems tend to use perchloroethylene (PERC), which is a dangerous chemical.
  • Choose plastics that do not contain dangerous toxins like vinyl chloride or bisphenol A (BPA).

In certain situations, if your child suffered injuries at birth or has a serious birth defect as a result of environmental toxins, you may be able to file a claim for compensation. Contact a birth injury lawyer to discuss your potential case.

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