Pregnant women know to cut out alcohol, raw fish. But what about chemicals?

ATLANTA — Chemicals are everywhere and they can hurt you even before you are born.

Channel 2 Action News “Gets Real” about how your race affects your exposure to chemicals. New research partly done in Georgia shows Black and Hispanic pregnant women are exposed to more chemicals.

They are in our food, water and even the air we breathe from dust. But scientists said you can and should restrict them when you are pregnant to protect your unborn child.

Yesenia Rios-Rey used to have multi-colored dyed hair, wear lots of makeup and have long, fake nails.

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These days the 21-year-old Fulton County resident is going for a different kind of glow up — an all-natural pregnancy glow.

She is cutting out the chemicals to help her baby grow.  “I feel more energetic, less fatigued… it helps you love yourself more as well, like emotional-wise,” said Rios-Rey.

Emory University researcher Carmen Marsit, Ph.D. helped study the relationship between chemicals and pregnant women.

The study, published by the American Chemical Society in May 2022, tested urine previously collected during the pregnancy of 171 women in five states including Georgia and Puerto Rico.

It found chemicals in all of them. 100% tested positive for a pesticide.

But minorities — Black and Hispanic women — had more exposure to more chemicals. “And this is probably based on a lot of structural racism or other factors that are feeding into the types of products that people use. The types of foods that are available to them are different cultural differences,” said Marsit.


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Scientists said more chemical exposure during pregnancy can lead to more developmental and behavioral problems for your child even as they age.

Researchers said that may be why we are seeing so many fights and other problems with students these days. “Things like lower IQ, symptoms that are ADHAD, there’s a lot of concern about autism,” said Tracey Woodruff, Ph.D. who is a researcher at University of California, San Francisco and led the study.

“Our genetics don’t change. So, really it has to be our environment that’s changing, that’s leading to these increases,” said Marsit.

To limit your exposure, researchers said watch what you put on your body. Don’t dye your hair, don’t use polish, acrylic or other chemicals on your nails and stay away from perfume.

But the most important thing you can do is watch what you put in your body. Stay away from processed food. Stick to fresh meat, fruits and vegetables and try to eat organic. “Studies show that if you eat organic, if you can, it does result in lower exposures to a number of different pesticides,” said Woodruff.

You also can do things around your home to limit the exposure like cleaning with vinegar and baking soda instead of store-bought products full of chemicals. “Chemicals love to hang out in dust. So, washing your hands before you eat, or cleaning with a HEPA or wet mop also can reduce exposures in the household,” said Woodruff.

But even with all those efforts, researchers admitted it’s really hard to avoid chemicals. “We are very much behind the eight ball. In Europe, they use what’s called the precautionary principal where a company has to demonstrate no potential danger before a chemical could be put on the market,” said Marsit.

He said the U.S. takes a wait-and-see approach before regulating chemicals.

That is why Yesenia Rios-Rey is challenging herself to protect her baby. At seven-and-a-half months pregnant, she is counting down the days until delivery and taking every step she can to limit her chemical exposure. “Is it better to just stay away from it? Or do you want to dibble and dabble and test your luck? And honestly, I don’t like trying to test my luck,” said Rios-Rey.

Researchers also found you can get rid of some of the chemicals by washing your food or peeling it, but not all of it. They said a lot of our food is made with seeds already doused in chemicals so, it’s in the food itself.

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