Babies whose mothers were exposed to toxic chemicals are four times more likely to have a serious birth defect
As structural changes present at birth that can affect nearly any part of the body, birth defects vary from mild to severe. Pregnant women who lived at Camp Lejeune during the last century drank toxic water and inadvertently exposed their fetuses to harmful substances. Congenital disabilities are the leading cause of infant death in the country, resulting in 20% of all infant deaths, many of which stem from exposure to teratogens during pregnancy. Teratogens are substances that can cause congenital abnormalities via a toxic effect on the embryo or fetus. This is how exposure to two of the most prevalent solvents in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune can affect the unborn baby:
- perchloroethylene exposure may increase the risk of low birth weight, central nervous system defects, cardiac defects, and oral cleft defects
- trichloroethylene exposure is associated with a baby small for gestational age, low birth weight, and reduced mean birth weight
Prenatal exposure to organic solvents can increase the chances of having a miscarriage, preterm birth, stillbirth, a low birth weight baby, or a baby with a birth defect. Many solvents are also present in breast milk, which only worsens toxic exposure. A study from the medical journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that exposure to chlorinated solvents, which lurked in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune, was associated with increased odds of neural tube defects, especially spina bifida. Furthermore, the researchers discovered that the prevalence of any solvent exposure was higher among mothers of babies with spina bifida and encephalocele cases.
Exposure to volatile organic compounds during pregnancy increases the risk of serious birth defects
Trichloroethylene exposure during pregnancy can increase a baby's risk of cardiac defects and immune disorders. When present in the bloodstream, it can cross the placenta and enter the body of the developing baby.
A pregnant woman's exposure to trichloroethylene during the first two to eight weeks of pregnancy, when the baby's heart is developing, can increase the chances of having a child with a birth defect of the heart, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
The trichloroethylene level in the water at Camp Lejeune exceeded the safe exposure limit by 280 times. A study from Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts suggests that exposure to perchloroethylene-contaminated drinking water is associated with delayed time-to-pregnancy and increases the risk of placental abruption, stillbirths from placental dysfunction, and certain birth defects. The researchers observed increased odds for neural tube, oral cleft, and genitourinary defects. Perchloroethylene was present in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune in a concentration eclipsing the safe exposure limit by 43 times.
A study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry surveyed the parents of 12,598 children to identify potential cases of birth defects and childhood cancers. The investigators found 106 birth defect cases, more specifically:
- 35 children with neural tube defects
- 42 children with oral cleft
- 29 children with hematopoietic cancer
According to the study, during the first trimester of pregnancy, the risk of a neural tube defect became higher with increasing levels of exposure to trichloroethylene, which was present in the drinking water at Camp Lejeune. Furthermore, the investigators observed a significant association between neural tube defects and first-trimester exposure to benzene at the military base.
Finally, in-utero exposure to PFAS has a strong connection with a high incidence of gestational diabetes, childhood obesity, preeclampsia, and fetal growth restriction. These chemicals began lurking in the water at Camp Lejeune after 1967 when military firefighters began using the fire suppressant AFFF excessively. More specifically, PFOA, one of the most studied chemicals from this group, was found to cause birth defects. Exposure to PFOA during pregnancy can affect the development of the child.