Researchers have found a chemical in water that may damage the vision of your unborn child if you come in contact with the chemical during pregnancy. The chemical is called tetrachloroethylene or PCE. The effects of coming in contact with the solvent may not be noticed right away. It could take years to damage vision.

Who Did the Researchers Test?

Researchers tested people born between ’69 and ’83. All participants lived in Massachusetts and all came in contact with water that tested positive for PCE at the time of pregnancy. The reason this area was chosen was because of a mistake that occurred when the lining of the town’s pipes was not cured correctly. This caused PCE to leach into the town’s water.

When study participants were given vision tests those exposed to the PCE failed miserably. Researchers found that the chemical hinders the eye’s ability to discriminate color. The more PCE the mother was exposed to while pregnant, the worse the outcome of the test. Other vision tests were not affected by exposure to PCE.

PCE and the Brain

PCE is known to be a neurotoxin so there could be other long-term health problems associated with exposure. Today the water pipes have been replaced with lines that do not leach PCE, but PCE is still used in some businesses and it is still found contaminating water in some towns across the US. Pregnant women can contact the local water department to find out if water tests have revealed PCE in the town’s water. If the regular water tests do not list PCE as one of the chemicals to scan for, an outside company will test the water.

It is important to note that PCE does not typically affect the accuracy of vision. If a child is going to be far-sighted or near-sighted, PCE is not known to affect that part of the vision. Color recognition is the only aspect of visual health affected by the chemical so some children and adults who’ve come in contact with PCE in utero may never know they have a vision problem.

Seeing is believing and in the case of the more than 100 Massachusetts cities affected by the tainted vinyl liners in the 1970s, children conceived when the water was laced with PCE are paying the price. Safe drinking water is important for everyone from pregnant women to aging adults.

Source: Boston University Medical Center. July 13, 2012.