Officials warn pregnant women to get tested following Calif. spill

August 06, 1991|By McClatchy News Service

SACRAMENTO -- California officials reversed themselves yesterday, warning that the chemical that spilled into the Sacramento River three weeks ago near Dunsmuir may cause birth defects and urging pregnant women in the area to seek testing.

The announcement, which came two weeks after officials said that there was no evidence that metam sodium could cause birth defects, stems from a review of data stored in secret files at the California Department of Food and Agriculture for several years, officials said.

"We have found that high exposure to metam sodium causes birth defects in rats and in rabbits at high doses," said Richard Jackson of the Department of Health Services.

Mr. Jackson and state officials from the Cal-EPA agency stressed that they do not expect birth defects in humans or other long-term health effects from the spill, which was caused when a Southern Pacific rail car derailed July 14 and dumped the herbicide into the river.

But they added that pregnant women in the first trimester should seek routine testing that normally would be conducted in any pregnancy. Alphafetoprotein testing can determine the presence of "neural tube defects," abnormalities of the brain and spine that have been detected in tests on animals.

The odds of such defects are 1 in 1,000 under normal circumstances and 1 in 30 for women who have had previous pregnancies involving spina bifida or similar defects, experts say.

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