Most heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, are embryotoxic. High maternal serum lead concentrations increase the risk of abortion and adversely affect the central nervous system of the developing fetus, leading to a low IQ and abnormal behavior of the infant. PCBs are environmental contaminants that remain in the body up to 4 years after exposure. The fetus of a pregnant woman exposed to PCBs is at increased risk of fetal growth retardation, abnormal skull calcifications, deformed nails, and pigmentation of gums, nails, and the groin. Organic mercury compounds tend to accumulate in fat tissue and cause cell death due to the inhibition of cellular enzymes. These compounds cause cerebral palsy, microencephaly, mental retardation, blindness, and cerebellar hypoplasia in the infant.
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