Newborn With Mercury Poisoning Lives for Just Seven Hours After Birth

Newborn With Mercury Poisoning Lives for Just Seven Hours After Birth

We've also included some helpful tips to prevent exposure to such contaminants.

Mums, although you are advised to avoid drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or smoking during pregnancy, there’s another toxin you might have overlooked. Routine exposure to environmental toxins like car exhaust or plastics can actually cause birth defects. A recent, shocking case of birth defects caused by mercury in Indonesia shows how dangerous environmental toxins can be.

‘Cyclops’ Baby Didn’t Live for More Than 7 Hours

Newborn With Mercury Poisoning Lives for Just Seven Hours After Birth

Image source: Carter News Agency

On Thursday, 13th September, a baby was born missing an eye and a nose in the Mandailing Natal Regency of North Sumatra, Indonesia. 

Sadly, doctors didn’t have a good prognosis, saying that she wouldn’t grow up into adulthood. Surviving through the week alone would be a massive struggle. 

Syarifuddin Nasution, the health agency’s head, stated that “Right now the hospital is supplying oxygen through the baby’s mouth,” as quoted by Liputan 6

According to Syarifuddin, “In similar cases, [the rate of survival is] one to three days. But the doctor earlier said that we should be grateful [if she lives for] five hours. Her general condition is that she has respiratory and heart complications. Her heartbeat is below 100.”

Still, doctors were hopeful soon after the baby girl’s birth and closely monitored her health. They were planning to transfer her to another hospital in the North Sumatra’s capital city, Medan.

However, the latest updates have reported that the baby didn’t make it. She passed away on 13th September, having been alive for a mere seven hours.

Birth Defects Caused by Mercury, Says Health Agency

Apparently, the baby’s father was often exposed to the harmful material as he works as an artisanal gold miner. This knowledge led to health experts suspecting that the cause of the baby’s deformities was due to mercury poisoning. 

Mercury is a heavy metal that is toxic to adults. Its effects on unborn babies are thoroughly researched, often pinpointing it to be the source of birth defects and irregularities in the nervous system. 

The harmful material is widely used to extract gold within ore in gold mining processing sites. A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report states that Indonesia hosts the largest number of artisanal mines globally.

What you need to be aware of is that you don’t have to be a gold miner to be unknowingly exposed to mercury and other potentially toxic substances. 

You Can Be Exposed to Mercury Without Knowing It

birth defects caused by mercury

Fish are a common source of mercury – smaller ones tend to contain less mercury. | Image source: stock photos

There are a lot of sources of mercury in the natural world. One of the more common routes of exposure is food. In nature, mercury drops from the air back into water bodies like streams and rivers. Fish, in turn, obtain mercury from the water and other fish.

The general rule of thumb is the older and bigger the fish, the more mercury it is likely to contain.

The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advise pregnant women to avoid eating the following types of fish:

  • Swordfish
  • King Mackerel
  • Shark
  • Tilefish
  • Marlin

Other Environmental Toxins

Although doctors advise most pregnant women to avoid alcohol, cigarette smoking, and drug use, it has recently become known that environmental toxins can also affect the unborn fetus. These chemicals can be found in air expelled from vehicle exhaust, plastic items, fine particles from air pollution, pesticides, or even paint (as it can contain lead).

Five years ago, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) released a committee opinion which was recently confirmed, urging “for timely action to identify and reduce exposure to toxic environmental agents while addressing the consequences of such exposure.” 

Nathaniel DeNicola, a member of the ACOG committee that reaffirmed their opinion, can’t emphasise how critical it is.

According to Nathaniel, “Fetal development is a critical window of human development, and so any toxic exposure during that time, during pregnancy, doesn’t only have a short-term effect at that moment, but really an effect that lasts the entire lifetime.”

But why is complete avoidance a must?

DeNicola draws a few parallels between alcohol consumption during pregnancy to that of exposure to environmental toxins.

Pregnant women who drink too much alcohol may give birth to babies who suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome. However, it’s not clear how much alcohol you should drink that won’t harm the baby – so it’s best to not drink at all during pregnancy.

He explains, “we know the heavy metals and phthalates are toxic at some level. Since we don’t know the safe amount, we try to just avoid it as much as possible.”

Tips to Avoid Environmental Toxin Exposure

Although we are frequently exposed to such chemicals due to heavy urbanisation, there are many tips that you can take to avoid them, mums. Here are a few which we’ve collated to help you.

Better Lifestyle Habits

  • Take off your footwear before entering a house. That way, you won’t let dust and dirt (which contains contaminants) accumulate indoors.
  • Wash your hands often – especially prior to eating. DeNicola says that all the things we touch “have some [chemical] residue on them”. 
  • Vacuum and mop routinely, as chemicals tend to stick inside the dust. 
  • Avoid reheating food in plastic containers, and try to use less plastic containers for food in general. “Don’t ever cook or reheat things in plastic, because the components of the plastic will come into the food or beverage. They will, guaranteed,” said Bruce Blumberg, a professor of developmental and cell biology at the University of California at Irvine.
  • Eat more foods that aren’t high on the food chain, like plant-based foods or tiny fish such as sardines.
  • Don’t exercise outdoors while there a lot vehicles, such as during rush hour.
birth defects caused by mercury

Keeping your house clean can is a good first step to reduce contact with contaminants and toxins. | Image source: stock photo

Choose Safer Products

  • Consume more organic food. Organic farming methods often employ fewer pesticides. This can lessen the risk of exposure to pesticide residue.
  • Avoid using non-stick kitchenware. While Teflon isn’t present in most non-stick cookware nowadays, there isn’t much known about the non-stick materials in newer kitchenware. Thus, it’s best to totally avoid it to risk any possible harm.
  • If you use make-up regularly, practice the following:
    • Select fragrance-free cosmetics and cleaning products. That is, perfumed products and non-scented ones, too. Denicola explains that these products are frequently added with scented phthalates which overwhelm other fragrances. (Phthalates are environmental toxins which can lead to premature birth and delays in brain development).
    • Do read through the labels and avoid products which contain diethyl phthalate, or DEP, the usual phthalate in ‘unscented’ products. 
    • Limit exposure of harmful chemicals. DeNicola stresses that getting continuous exposure is what poses the danger. That one time you used scented hand lotion isn’t that dangerous.


References: The Washington Post, ACOG (lead, environmental toxins), NCBI,

Also read:

What are the risks? Pregnancy in your 20s, 30s, 40s

Baby born with severe birth defect is now all-smiles after surgery!

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