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Black Reproductive Health Declining

0724_RBBabiesReproductive health in the United States is declining as human exposure to dangerous chemicals rises, according to data compiled by the Center for American Progress (CAP), in July. The incidences of fertility problems, preterm births, and low birth rates are alarmingly high among African Americans, says Reece Rushing, the author of the report.

More than 18% of black babies were born preterm in 2004, surpassing the 12% national average. While a confluence of factors including a dearth of adequate healthcare coverage and poor nutrition are suspected to play a role in the higher than average rates among blacks, chemical exposure is also thought to be a factor.

“Very low birth weight” – under 3.4 pounds – neared 3.5% in 2004, up from just below 2.5% in the 1970s. The national average stood at 1.5% in 2004, half the rate of blacks.

As reproductive health has declined, chemical production has increased dramatically, the report says. The number of chemicals registered for commercial use now stands at 80,000 —a 30% increase since 1979.

“We have more fertility problems, there’s more birth defects we have more miscarriages, more preterm births, and we don’t know exactly why it’s happening,” says Rushing, director of regulatory and information policy at CAP. “We do know we’re being exposed to more chemicals than ever before, and we do know these chemicals are dangerous to reproductive health, and it seems to be these chemicals are taking a toll.”

Exposure to these chemicals is usually though contaminated food, household products and cosmetics. The data reveals that poor people and minorities are generally exposed to chemicals at higher levels than whites.

The prospects for reversing the downturn in reproductive health appear to be brightening, Rushing says.  Last year Congress passed legislation that requires pre-market testing of children’s products sold in the United States. Rushing said there will likely be a renewed push for the Kids Safe Chemical Act, which would help reduce human exposure to dangerous chemicals, which in turn promises to lift reproductive health.

The report is based on a compilation of medical and education studies from various organizations including the Center for Disease Control, U.S. Department of Education, and National Child Survey which look at rates from the 1970s to 2005.

— Renita Burns

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