DENVER, April 30 (UPI) -- In utero exposure to ethyl benzene, a chemical found in crude oil, is associated with an increased risk of congenital heart disease, U.S. researchers say.
"Congenital heart disease is a major cause of childhood death and life-long health problems," lead author Dr. D. Gail McCarver, a professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Children's Research Institute in Milwaukee, says in a statement.
"Thus, identifying risk factors contributing to congenital heart disease is important to public health."
The study also found fetal exposure to a chemical found in cleaning agents and spot removers indicated an increased risk of congenital heart disease.
McCarver and colleagues tested samples of meconium, or fetal stool, from 135 newborns with congenital heart disease and 432 newborns without congenital heart disease. Eighty-two percent of the infants showed evidence of intrauterine exposure to one or more of the solvents measured, and 17 compounds were measured in the meconium samples.
The study finds among white infants, but not black infants, fetal exposure to ethyl benzene was associated with a four-fold increased risk of congenital heart disease, while exposure to trichloroethylene was associated with a two-fold increased risk for congenital heart disease among white infants and an eight-fold increased risk among black infants.
The findings are being presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Denver.