Chinese women who had heightened levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons -- chemicals that come from the smoke of burning coal -- in their placentas faced a nearly fivefold increased risk of delivering babies with brain or spinal cord defects, while those whose placentas had higher-than-average levels of synthetic pesticides, such as hexachlorocyclohexane and endosulfan, had roughly a threefold increased risk, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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