Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a group of chemicals that have been linked to cancer, can sometimes mimic the hormone estrogen, interfere with the thyroid hormone and damage the neurological system. PCB exposures before birth may lead to developmental delays, hyperactivity, lower IQs and shorter attention spans.
Because PCBs persist and accumulate in the environment, it is difficult to eliminate your exposure altogether. But you can reduce your exposure by trimming fat from fish and meats before cooking them, avoiding fatty meats and dairy products, and limiting your intake of farmed salmon and catfish. If your home was built before PCB was banned in 1979, you can also reduce your exposure by replacing possible sources of PCB contamination including light fixtures, television sets, refrigerators, water-well pumps, paint, grout, asphalt shingles, tar paper and sealants.
Pesticide exposure has been linked to a host of health problems including birth defects, childhood brain cancer, developmental and neurological disorders, and disruption to the reproductive and hormonal systems. Of particular concern are a group of pesticides known as organochlorines that cause cancer and numerous reproductive problems. Although organochlorines have largely been banned in the United States, they persist in the environment for decades and accumulate in the food chain.
The easiest way to reduce your exposure to pesticides is to eat organic foods and eliminate the use of pesticides in your home and yard. If you can't eat organic foods all the time, avoid foods with the highest levels of pesticide residues and opt for low-fat dairy and meat products.
Exposure to mercury before birth can harm a baby's developing brain and nervous system, leading to impaired cognitive thinking, memory problems, shorter attention spans, delayed language development, and diminished fine motor and spatial skills.
Because most mercury exposure occurs through fish consumption, the easiest way to reduce your baby's exposure is to avoid eating fish with high levels of mercury, such as orange roughy, shark, swordfish and ahi tuna.
Lead can have profound effects on unborn children, including physical and developmental delays, lower IQ levels, shorter attention spans and behavioral problems. Fetuses are more susceptible to lead's ill effects because their growing bodies more readily absorb lead, and their body tissues are more sensitive to its damaging effects.
If your home was built before the 1979 lead-based paint ban, there is a good chance that it contains lead-based paint. You can leave lead paint alone if it is in good condition, or hire a professional with special training to remove lead-based paint in poor condition or in areas where painted surfaces rub against one another, such as windows. To limit your exposure while the lead paint is removed, you should leave the building until this work is completed.
Lead can also be found in water pipes, fixtures and solder, particularly in homes built before 1986. To reduce your exposure, use cold water for drinking and cooking, run the water at the tap before consuming it if it has been sitting for more than six hours, and use a water filter that is certified for lead removal.
You can also minimize your body's storage of lead by eating meals that are low in fat and high in calcium and iron, such as low-fat dairy products and green vegetables.
Phthalates are chemicals used in plastics and as fragrances in common household products like detergents, nail polish, air fresheners, hair spray and shampoo. They can interfere with male reproductive hormones, leading to lower testosterone levels, decreased sperm counts, lower sperm quality, structural abnormalities in the male reproductive tract and testicular cancer.
You can reduce your exposure to phthalates by avoiding plastics treated with phthalates, often described as PVC or labeled with a "V" or "3" recycling code. Avoid household and personal products that contain phthalates by looking up the products you use on the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database. If you have vinyl flooring in your home, damp mop it regularly and keep it out of direct sunlight whenever possible to limit your exposure.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical found in plastics, consumer products, and the lining of canned foods and beverages that is known to mimic estrogen and has been linked to reproductive problems, increased cancer risk, abnormal brain development and abnormalities in fat metabolism.
To lower your risk of passing BPA on to your developing child, limit your consumption of canned foods and rinse canned fruit and vegetables with water prior to serving them. You should also avoid storing food in plastic containers labeled with the letters "PC" or recycling "7," heating liquids or foods in plastic containers, and using old and scratched plastics.