Foetal exposure to a chemical found in crude oil is associated with an increased risk of congenital heart disease (CHD), a new study has found.
The study also showed that babies who had been exposed in utero to a chemical found in cleaning agents and spot removers were at increased risk of CHD.
Environmental causes of CHD have been suspected, and animal studies have suggested certain chemicals may cause CHD, a problem with the heart's structure and function due to abnormal heart development before birth.
McCarver and her colleagues sought to determine whether human fetal exposure to solvents is associated with increased risk for CHD. The researchers tested samples of meconium, or fetal stool, from 135 newborns with CHD and 432 newborns without CHD.
Results showed that 82% of infants had evidence of intrauterine exposure to one or more of the solvents measured.
"This is the first report that exposure to ethyl benzene, a compound present in crude oil, was associated with CHD," said D Gail McCarver, lead author of the study and professor of paediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Children's Research Institute, Milwaukee.
The study has been presented at the Paediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Denver.