Reproductive Organs and Unborn Children

For almost 35 years, I have been interested in the topic of reproductive hazards in the workplace. This was the subject of the first symposium that I organized for the American Chemical Society. This is the fourth article in SOS on this subject.

I've been sharing the Oakridge National Laboratory's list of Particularly Hazardous Substances (select carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and highly toxic substances) for years. It's gotten on in years and been pretty much supplanted by the Duke University EHS Department's PHS list. It;s twice as long and lists female, male, and fetal reproductive toxins.

Earlier this year, I had a call from a college chemistry professor. He ask me what should he do about students in his labs who might be pregnant. I've answered this question dozens of times. I thought for a moment and responded, "What do you do about chemicals that can damage your reproductive organs?"

There as a somewhat stunned silence followed by weak laughter, and then, "I use my intuition." I asked, "What could you do that might be better than your intuition?"

He suggested, "I could read the SDSs." I agreed.

In October, I traveled to Alabama to visit a pharmaceutical company. I happened to get to sit in on their new employee briefing. The subject of reproductive toxins was discussed, along with the need to inform your supervisor if you think you are pregnant.

Two weeks later, a 47-year-old woman in Boston gave birth to a child one hour after going to the hospital with stomach cramps!

OK. Here's the bottom line: When do you want to know that you are handling a chemical that can damage your male or female reproductive organs and your unborn child?

Unfortunately, at Dow Chemical, they learned it once the hard way. In the Magnolia, Arkansas plant where they were making 1,2-dibromo-3-chloropropane, the men were going irreversibly sterile. Dow discontinued the production of this chemical.

Do you want to learn after you give birth to a child that has multiple birth defects? I was an expert witness in such a case.

Do you want to learn after you have gone irreversibly sterile?

I'm guessing that you would probably like to know before. The question is how much before.

Here's my best answer: Before you pick up the bottle. I recommend that you review all the readily available lists of reproductive toxins and then put a clear, large label on the bottle that says "Reproductive Toxin."

While you are at it, how about adding labels for "Carcinogen," "Highly Toxic," "Highly Reactive," and "Peroxide Former"?

And in some case, maybe you want to know before you place the order!

James A. Kaufman, Ph.D., is President/CEO of the Laboratory Safety Institute in Natick, Mass. To contact him, email jim@labsafetyinstitute.org.

Posted on Aug 04, 2016


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