Workplace Exposure to Organic Solvents Linked to Heart DefectsJuly 19, 2012 — A new study has identified exposure to organic solvents as a risk factor for having a baby with a serious, life-threatening heart defect. The research, published in the journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, has found that heart defects occurred in 5-10% of babies exposed to organic solvents in the one month prior to pregnancy until the end of the third trimester. The CDC estimates that 1-3% of babies are normally born with heart defects.


Organic solvents are chemicals that are capable of dissolving another substance. They are often used in commercial industries, including manufacturing, laboratories, construction, restaurants, cleaning, and more. They are used in products like paint, varnish, lacquers, adhesives, glues, agricultural products, cleaning/degreasing agents, and in the manufacturing of plastics, synthetic textiles, dyes, printing inks, and more.

In the workplace, most people ingest organic solvents when they are breathed in the air or absorbed through the skin.

Although chemical solvents are commonly used in commercial industries, there has been very little research about their effects on a developing fetus. The researchers created a sample population of 5,000 women who were living in various parts of the U.S., selecting 2,951 control mothers and 2,047 mothers who had a baby with a congenital heart defect. All of the women had a baby between 1997 and 2002 and were participating in the National Birth Defects Prevention Study.

The researchers used two methods to assess each woman’s level of solvent exposure in the workplace: one based upon the consensus of experts, and one based on a review of published literature. Solvents were grouped into three categories: chlorinated solvents, aromatic solvents, and Stoddard solvents. The researchers also looked for 15 different categories of heart defects.

The researchers found that between 5-10% of babies born to women had a congenital birth defect (the variation in the statistic depended on whether they used the expert-consensus method or the literature-based method to determine the mother’s level of solvent exposure). The most common heart defects associated with solvents were ventricular septal defects (holes in the wall between the upper chambers of the heart), aortic stenosis (narrow aorta and/or aortic valve), transposition of the great arteries, pulmonary valve stenosis, and right ventricular outflow obstruction defects.

Based upon this evidence, the researchers concluded that congenital heart defects were more likely to occur in babies born to women exposed to an organic solvent 1 month before pregnancy until the third month of pregnancy.

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