A new study found a connection between common household chemicals and birth defects.
Known as quaternary ammonium compounds or "quats," the chemicals are often used as disinfectants and preservatives in household and personal products such as cleaners, laundry detergent, fabric softener, shampoo and conditioner, and eye drops. The research demonstrated a link between quats and neural tube birth defects in both mice and rats.
Researcher investigated the effect of two commonly used quats: alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride and didecyl dimethyl ammonium chloride. These are often listed on ingredient lists as ADBAC and DDAC, respectively, and are valued for their antimicrobial and antistatic properties, as well as their ability to lower surface tension. Hrubec found that exposure to these chemicals resulted in neural tube birth defects - the same birth defect as spina bifida and anencephaly in humans.
Birth defects were seen when both males and females were exposed, as well as when only one parent was exposed. Quaternary ammonium compounds were introduced in the 1950s and 1960s before the standardization of toxicity studies. Chemical manufacturers conducted some toxicity studies on the compounds during this period, but they were never published. Today, the chemicals are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.