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CEC tests maternal blood for toxics
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The CEC, with financial assistance from the World Bank, has begun a North America-wide testing program to analyze the blood of first-time mothers for selected environmental chemicals.

Under the program, blood samples from 500 mothers aged 18 to 30 will be tested for chemicals such as dioxins and furans, PCBs, DDT, chlordane and lindane-a pesticide that Mexico is planning to eliminate-as well as metals like arsenic, lead and mercury. Sampling is set to begin next week in 15 sites in Canada and Mexico, and pre-existing data will be submitted by the United States.

The purpose of the study is to obtain a profile of population exposure to these persistent organic pollutants and metals, and assess both baseline values and potential environmental "hotspots" in Mexico where elevated concentrations of these chemicals are anticipated.

"This project will allow, for the first time, a basic comparison of the population of all three North American countries using data that were collected in a scientifically consistent manner," says Luke Trip, program manager for the CEC's Sound Management of Chemicals program. "These data can be used to determine future priorities for chemicals management and set a baseline to track our progress in reducing the harmful effects of these contaminants."

Persistent organic pollutants such as DDT, PCBs, lindane, and chlordane accumulate in the blood and soft tissues and can adversely affect the kidneys, liver and other organs. Even in small doses, exposure to certain chemicals and metals has been associated with nervous system damage in fetuses and young children, resulting in learning deficits, behavioral disorders and lowered IQ.

A trinational report, expected in the spring of 2006, will outline the results of the study, including a comparison of maternal levels of contaminants in each country. Columbia University's Children's Center and the University of Cincinnati Medical Center have similar ongoing studies in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Investigators from these studies will share their data with the CEC for its final report.

The working group for this trilateral initiative is being led by Drs Jay Van Oostdam of Health Canada, Mauricio Hernandez of the Mexican National Institute of Public Health and Larry Needham of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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