- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 7, 2004

Children of mothers occupationally exposed during pregnancy to widely available organic solvents, such as rubbing alcohol, had lower scores on tests of language and behavior than children of mothers without such exposure, a new study has found.

The report by Canadian researchers, published in the October issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, said organic solvents are some of the most common sources of workplace chemical exposure cited by pregnant women.

They include substances such as toluene, xylene, ethanol, methanol, acetone and isopropyl alcohol and are used in numerous industries, including dry cleaning, manufacturing, nail salons and medical laboratories.

“The results of this study suggest some adverse fetal effects of occupational exposure to organic solvents during pregnancy as measured by neurocognitive behavior and motor coordination measures,” the authors wrote.

Lead researcher Dionne Laslo-Baker and her colleagues at the Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto in Ontario said it’s recognized that organic solvents can harm the central nervous system.

What’s more, researchers said, animal studies have shown that “high exposures to solvents such as toluene in pregnant rodents can impair neurobehavioral development in their offspring.”

But “data regarding the potential neurodevelopmental toxicity of this common exposure” in babies had been “few,” and the “effect of long-term lower-level exposure by pregnant women in occupational settings” were “less clear,” the authors said.

So, they compared a group of 32 women who had contact with organic solvents during pregnancy and their offspring, ages 3 to 9, with a matched group of mothers not exposed to the solvents and their children.

Mothers in the former group reported being exposed to a total of 78 organic solvents between 1 and 40 hours per week and between 8 and 40 weeks of their pregnancies. They made it clear they regularly used protective equipment to try to reduce their exposure.

Children in the two groups “did not differ in birth weights, gestational age or age at achieving certain behavioral milestones,” the researchers said.

However, the researchers said, “children exposed in utero to organic solvents obtained lower scores on subtests of intellectual, language, motor, and neurobehavioral functioning.”

The researchers pointed out that the “primary outcome” differences between the two groups of children were IQ and language scores. Both verbal and “full-scale” IQ scores were “significantly lower in the exposed group than in the control group,” they said.

The average verbal IQ for a control child was 116, while his overall IQ was 114. In contrast, the average IQ scores for an exposed child was 108 in both categories.

In addition, the scientists said, “children exposed in utero to organic solvents displayed a tendency toward lower scores in expressive and receptive language” than those who were not exposed.

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