Toxic Chemicals and Miscarriage Risk

woman working at dry cleaners
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Little is understood about why certain people miscarry and others have successful pregnancies despite multiple risk factors. In some cases, a person experiences a miscarriage or even repeated miscarriages without having any risk factors at all.

Individual outcomes seem to be primarily determined by chance and genetic luck. However, one factor that does increase the likelihood of miscarriage is regular exposure to factors classified as teratogens, or agents that have been found to cause disruption in fetal development.

Teratogens include toxic chemicals and radiation, certain viral and bacterial infections, or even cigarette smoke and alcohol.

The first trimester is the most critical period in fetal development in terms of vulnerability to teratogens.

Exposure to teratogens during pregnancy can have drastically different effects from one pregnancy to another. Some people may have no negative effects, while others may have babies with congenital birth defects. Some people will miscarry or suffer a stillbirth or neonatal death.

In addition to maternal exposure, a father's exposure to certain teratogens may also increase the risk of miscarriage by increasing levels of chromosomal abnormalities in the sperm.

In most cases, doctors believe that regular or prolonged exposure to teratogens is more dangerous than one-time or otherwise limited exposure. People who work in jobs that involve toxic chemicals may face an increased risk of pregnancy loss.

Chemical Agents Associated With Miscarriage

A 2006 analysis of past research found evidence that occupational exposures to these chemical agents could increase the risk of miscarriage:

  • Heavy metals (industrial workers, dental assistants)
  • Organic solvents (laboratory, industrial, and dry cleaning workers)
  • Tetrachloroethylene (dry cleaning workers)
  • Glycol ethers (semiconductor employees)
  • 2-Bromopropane (electronics industry)
  • Petrochemicals
  • Ethylene oxide (dental assistants)
  • Anesthetic gases (surgical staff)
  • Antineoplastic drugs (oncology staff)

What to Do to Reduce Risk

If you have been exposed to some kind of chemical agent, you don't necessarily need to panic about whether the chemical exposure was responsible for your miscarriage or if you are currently pregnant, that it will cause you to have a miscarriage.

Research suggests that the average human body carries dozens of theoretically harmful chemicals, yet healthy babies are still born every day.

You can still take steps to reduce your risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals whenever possible. If you work with chemicals, some workplaces allow women to request a temporary transfer to an alternative position to reduce their exposure to chemicals.

If this isn't the case at your job, you may still be able to take extra precautions to avoid exposure to chemicals by using personal protective equipment.

A Word From Verywell

While it's wise to avoid unnecessary chemical exposures when purposely trying to conceive, it won't help to panic about things that are beyond your control.

Remember that you would practically have to move to a deserted island to avoid chemicals in modern society—and even then you're not necessarily safe from pollution.

Common sense and reasonable precautions are never a bad idea, and can go a long way in terms of promoting your overall health and wellbeing when you're trying to conceive.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Early Pregnancy Loss.

  2. Alwan S, Chambers CD. Identifying Human Teratogens: An UpdateJ Pediatr Genet. 2015;4(2):39–41. doi:10.1055/s-0035-1556745

  3. Gilbert-barness E. Teratogenic causes of malformations. Ann Clin Lab Sci. 2010;40(2):99-114.

  4. Anderson D, Schmid TE, Baumgartner A. Male-mediated developmental toxicityAsian J Androl. 2014;16(1):81–88. doi:10.4103/1008-682X.122342

  5. Triche EW, Hossain N. Environmental factors implicated in the causation of adverse pregnancy outcomeSemin Perinatol. 2007;31(4):240–242. doi:10.1053/j.semperi.2007.07.013

  6. Figà-talamanca I. Occupational risk factors and reproductive health of women. Occup Med (Lond). 2006;56(8):521-31. doi:10.1093/occmed/kql114

By Krissi Danielsson
Krissi Danielsson, MD is a doctor of family medicine and an advocate for those who have experienced miscarriage.