New research has found exposure to household cleaning and personal hygiene products causes birth defects and reduced fertility in mice.
A common ingredient of household products, known as quaternary ammonium compounds or ‘quats,’ is thought to cause the harmful effects.
The research raises the possibility of quats contributing to human infertility, which has been on the rise in recent decades.
Terry Hrubec, associate professor of anatomy at VCOM and research assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and colleagues investigated the effect of a large class of common household chemicals called “quats.”
Due to their antimicrobial and antistatic properties, these products are routinely used as disinfectants in the form of household cleaning products, laundry detergent and fabric softener.
They are also used as preservatives in personal hygiene products, such as shampoo, conditioner and eye drops.
Hrubec and team specifically looked at two quats: alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (ADBAC) and didecyl dimethyl ammonium chloride (DDAC).
The researchers found that mice and rats were exposed to these chemicals gave birth to offspring with neural tube birth defects, the same birth defect as spina bifida and anencephaly in humans.
The animals also did not need to be given the chemicals for the birth defects to occur, simply being in a room that had been cleaned with quat-based products was enough.
In addition, the team also found that birth defects not only occurred when both parents were exposed to chemicals but also when just one parent was exposed, with an increased risk of birth defects also found two generations after stopping exposure.
“These chemicals are regularly used in the home, hospital, public spaces and swimming pools,” says Hrubec. “Most people are exposed on a regular basis.”
“Since rodent research is the gold standard in the biomedical sciences, this raises a big red flag that these chemicals may be toxic to humans as well,” she adds.
Hrubec noted that an epidemiological study could determine whether people who have a high rate of exposure, such as healthcare workers or restaurant servers, have a more difficult time becoming pregnant or have a greater likelihood of having children with neural tube birth defects, but no such study has been conducted to date.
The study was published in the journal Birth Defects Research.