Chemicals in common household items could be linked to birth defects in newborn mice, a new study revealed.

These chemicals are called quaternary ammonium compounds or quats, and most people are exposed to them almost every day, scientists said. In fact, quats are present in household items such as preservatives and disinfectants, as well as in personal products including shampoo, laundry detergent, conditioner, eye drops, and fabric softener.

"These chemicals are regularly used in the home, hospital, public spaces, and swimming pools," said study lead researcher Terry Hrubec.

Link Between Quats And Birth Defects

In the study, Hrubec and her colleagues investigated the effect of two commonly used quats: didecyl dimethyl ammonium chloride (DDAC) and alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (ADBAC). ADBAC and DDAC are valued for their antistatic and antimicrobial properties, and their ability to decrease surface tension.

Hrubec discovered a link between these two chemicals and neural tube birth defects in mice, which is the same birth defect as anencephaly and spina bifida in humans.

When one parent mouse and both male and female mice were exposed to ADBAC and DDAC, researchers saw that birth defects emerged in the newborn. Birth defects could be seen when only the father was exposed. Hrubec concluded that the scope of prenatal care should also include the father.

Furthermore, the mice did not need to be dosed with the chemicals to experience its effects. Simply using the quat-based household items in the same room as the mice was enough to cause birth defects, Hrubec found. There was also an increased rate in birth defects in mice for two generations after stopping the chemical exposure.

Details of the new study, which is a collaboration between the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, are published in the journal Birth Defects Research.

Link Between Quats And Reproductive Decline

In a previous report, Hrubec discovered a link between quats and reproductive decline in mice. Follow-up studies found that quats were negatively affecting ovulation in female mice and sperm count in male mice. These findings raise the likelihood that quats contribute to human infertility, which has been on the rise in recent years.

If quats are toxic in mice, what is the effect on humans? Hrubec said that since mice research is the "gold standard" in biomedical research, the findings raise a red flag that quat-based household items may also be toxic to humans.

With that, Hrubec suggests that an epidemiological study be conducted to find out whether people who have high rates of exposure to quats have difficult time to get pregnant or have higher chances of having children with neural birth defects.

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