Concern: Inhalation of toxic gases

Target of alert: Pregnant mothers

One of the greatest health threats to an unborn child may come from a totally unexpected source. A CFSC (Campaign for Scaring Consumers) directive is currently being formulated to advise pregnant women not to change the diapers of their babies, or even be in the same room when a baby discharges body wastes.

After an extensive literature review, the CFSC is advising that there is a high risk of fetal toxicity following the mother’s inhalation of the chemicals occurring in feces and gastrointestinal tract gases, since these contain significant quantities of hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia. Once in the bloodstream, these gases pass with ease from the maternal blood circulation to that of the fetus. Their adverse effects have been documented as follows:

Hydrogen sulfide
An insidious, unforgiving and highly toxic gas that is heavier than air. At low concentrations it smells like rotten eggs, but at higher concentrations it deadens the sense of smell so that no odor can be detected, and it may cause dizziness, unconsciousness and death. It is both an irritant and asphyxiant. Locally, it irritates the mucous membranes of the eyes and respiratory tract.

Systemically, it affects the central nervous system and may inhibit the brain’s respiratory center, which is generally fatal. There is little experimental or human health data on long-term exposure to low concentrations of hydrogen sulfide (Beauchamp et al 1984). All reported human cases of acute hydrogen sulfide poisoning have arisen from inhalation exposure (Smith & Gosselin 1979).

Carbon dioxide
A completely odorless and tasteless (and therefore even more insidious) gas that is heavier than air. It displaces the oxygen supply in the bloodstream, and can thus cause unconsciousness and death.

Baby changing 367x400Methane
A capricious, unpopular and highly-strung gas that can create an explosive atmosphere. It also displaces oxygen.

A pernicious and unashamedly aggressive gas that is lighter than air. It has a pungent smell that is toxic in very high concentrations (Appelman et al 1982) and can irritate the eyes and respiratory tract (Petrova et al 2008). Ammonia also displaces oxygen in the bloodstream.

Toxic synergy
A combination of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide (neurotic, bordering on psychopathic…) has been known to cause death from asphyxiation. Chronic exposure is associated with increased neurotoxicity and respiratory disease (Hansell & Oppenheimer 2004).

Gases like hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide and methane are made by the breaking down of undigested food in the large intestine. Thus created in the deepest confines of the digestive tubery, these gases have to escape somehow. Most people release 1 to 3 pints a day, in an average of 14 “episodes”. Between 30% and 62% of healthy people produce methane. Most foods that contain carbohydrates (starches and sugars) can cause gas (Shahakian et al 2010). Feeding a baby with any form of milk is unwise, since it contains sugars, and is therefore likely to cause the baby to produce gases that may affect its unborn sibling.

The CFSCs expert advisers are acutely concerned over this problem, and urgently invite your comments before formulating appropriate legislation. In the meantime, pregnant mothers are advised to avoid exercise, naked flames and carbohydrate-containing foods, and/or to live apart from babies, young children or, as a precautionary measure, anyone else at all. Further information can be found in the CFSC’s Fetal Advisory Regulation Team Fatal Feco-Fetal Effluent Affliction Report (FARTFFFEAR).

Appelman LM, Ten Berge WF, Reuzel PG 1982 Acute inhalation toxicity study of ammonia in rats with variable exposure periods. American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal 43:662-665

Beauchamp et al 1984 A critical review of the literature on hydrogen sulfide toxicity. Critical Reviews in Toxicology 13(1): 25-9

Hansell A, Oppenheimer C 2004 Health hazards from volcanic gases: a systematic literature review. Archives of Environmental Health 9: 628-639

Petrova M, Diamond J, Schuster B et al 2008 Evaluation of trigeminal sensitivity to ammonia in asthmatics and healthy human volunteers. Inhalation toxicology 20:1085-109

Sahakian AB, Jee SR, Pimentel M 2010 Methane and the gastrointestinal tract. Digestive Diseases & Sciences 55:2135-2143

Smith RP, Gosselin RE 1979 Hydrogen sulfide poisoning. Journal of Occupational Medicine, 21: 93-97

Some possibly tasteless light relief in the midst of heavy wrangling about the safety or otherwise of cosmetics (see my previous blog). Let me add that I am very concerned to hear that all kinds of nasty toxic chemicals have been found in the cord blood of babies by the Environmental Working Group. Let me also add that, with the exception of lead (naturally present in the iron oxides used to make lipstick red) and synthetic musk compounds, none of the 15 chemicals listed by the EWG is likely to be either found in or derived from cosmetics.