Two major medical societies and an important research group have released a joint statement calling on health care providers to advocate for reduced exposure to toxic chemicals and pollutants that can can cause reproductive health problems, harm to pregnancies, and long-term health complications.
The organizations involved — American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women, American Society for Reproductive Medicine Practice Committee, and UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment — state that although hundreds of new chemicals are introduced in the United States each year, safety data and regulation are lacking:
Because of deficiencies in the current regulatory structure, unlike pharmaceuticals, most environmental chemicals have entered the marketplace without comprehensive and standardized information regarding their reproductive or other long-term toxic effects.
Among the recommendations for health care providers (the target audience for the statement): learn about patients’ exposures before pregnancy and during prenatal visits; encourage pregnant and breastfeeding women to carefully wash produce and avoid fish with high levels of mercury; include information about environmental hazards in childbirth classes; and promote healthy food systems and policy changes that reduce exposure.
It’s great to see the medical establishment recognizing the need for better study and regulation of toxic chemicals — and acknowledging both the impact on reproductive health and the disparities in exposure to pollution and toxins. This new committee opinion, intended as an informative guide for professionals, may bring much-needed attention to these issues among obstetricians, gynecologists, and other reproductive medicine practitioners.
The committee opinion acknowledges that certain recommended actions — like eating fresh, unprocessed foods, selecting organic produce, and avoiding canned food that might expose consumers to bisphenol A — are not realistic strategies for many low-income women and vulnerable populations. The authors rightly note:
In the United States, minority populations are more likely to live in the counties with the highest levels of outdoor air pollution and to be exposed to a variety of indoor pollutants, including lead, allergens, and pesticides than white populations. In turn, the effects of exposure to environmental chemicals can be exacerbated by injustice, poverty, neighborhood quality, housing quality, psychosocial stress, and nutritional status.
The organizations add that “individuals alone can do little about exposure to toxic environmental agents, such as from air and water pollution, and exposure perpetuated by poverty,” and they therefore urge healthcare professionals to help advance policies that reduce exposure to toxins.
Relatedly, Breast Cancer Action is currently seeking signatures on a petition to Congress to increase chemical safety testing. And ACOG has released a brief guide to toxic chemicals and their effects for more information. Also, check out “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and related content on environmental and occupational health.