Women who are exposed to organic solvents while they are pregnant have a 13 fold risk of giving birth to a baby with a serious congenital malformation, such as spina bifida. The women who are at greatest risk work in the healthcare professions or in the printing, graphic design, clothing and textile industries.
The risk seems to be greatest among women who develop symptoms of solvent exposure during their pregnancy, researchers from Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children in Ontario discovered.
They studied 125 pregnant women who were exposed to organic solvents in their workplace, and were matched against women who were not exposed. Of these, 12 of the 75 who had suffered symptoms of exposure went on to give birth to babies with severe malformations, whereas no cases were found among women who experienced no symptoms from exposure. Just one case was reported in the group of women who had not been exposed to solvents.
The suspected solvents included hydrocarbons, phenols, trichloroethylene, xylene, vinyl chloride, acetone and related compounds (JAMA, 1999; 281: 1106-9).