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Your Environment. Your Health.

Common Disinfectants Linked to Neural Tube Defects in Rodents

Terry Hrubec, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
R21ES016886

Researchers supported in part by NIEHS found an association between exposure to common household cleaners, called quaternary ammonium compounds, or quats, and neural tube defects in both mice and rats. Neural tube defects are birth defects of the brain or spinal cord.

Male and female mice were exposed to two types of quats — alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride and didecyl dimethyl ammonium chloride — which are commonly used in homes, hospitals, and industrial settings. The exposed mice had pups with significantly higher rates of birth defects than unexposed mice. The researchers observed an increased rate of birth defects for two generations after they ended the exposure.

They also found an increase in neural tube defects after only the father was exposed. Male or female exposure that ended 7 to 10 days before breeding led to an increased rate of neural tube defects.

In addition to seeing an effect after rodents were dosed with quats, the researchers found that just using the disinfectants in the same room as the mice led to a 15 percent increase in neural tube defects. With increased human exposure and a scarcity of human data, combined with these observations, the researchers emphasized the need for more studies to evaluate the effects of quats on human health and development.

Citation: Hrubec TC, Melin VE, Shea CS, Ferguson EE, Garafola C, Repine CM, Chapman TW, Patel HR, Razvi RM, Sugrue JE, Potineni H, Magnin-Bissel G, Hunt PA. 2017. Ambient and dosed exposure to quaternary ammonium disinfectants causes neural tube defects in rodents. Birth Defects Res 109(14):1166-1178.