There’s something in the water for moms-to-be to be afraid of because it’s causing stillbirths and other pregnancy complications. Researchers from the Boston University Medical Center found a dangerous chemical in drinking water, and published their findings in the journal Environmental Health.

The pregnant women of Cape Cod, Mass., were experiencing some abnormally high rates of pregnancy complications and researchers set out to find what was making them twice as likely to have a stillbirth, and 1.35 times more likely to have a placenta abruption and high risk of vaginal bleeding. It wasn’t until researchers looked into their drinking water that they found the cause; a sickening chemical called tetrachloroethylene (PCE) was harming moms and their unborn babies.

"Our results suggest that prenatal PCE exposure is not associated with all obstetric complications, but may increase the risk of certain ones, including stillbirth and placental abruption (when the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus)," the Boston University Medical Center researchers said in a university press release.

The team of researchers studied nearly 1,100 pregnancies in women who had high exposure to PCE. They then compared them to approximately 1,000 women without exposure to the chemical. The women in Cape Cod were at an especially high risk for complications because the drinking water between the 1960s and 1980s flowed through vinyl-lined asbestos cement pipes, which leaked PCE. It's had high levels of the chemical ever since.

Stillbirth isn’t just a pregnancy complication but a death that causes significant psychological turmoil on the mother — it occurs once every 60 pregnancies. PCE exposure doubles the chances of a baby dying after 20 weeks of pregnancy, before the mother goes into labor, according to the National Stillbirth Society. Placental abruption is a common cause of stillbirth, and is also connected to PCE exposure. It’s a form of high blood pressure called preeclampsia, and doubles the chance of stillbirth due to the baby being deprived of a sufficient amount of oxygen or nutrients. This serious pregnancy complication destroys a mother’s chance at having a healthy baby brought into the world at full-term. The researchers have found it all comes down to what these women are drinking.

"We need to have a better understanding of the impact of this common drinking water contaminant on all aspects of pregnancy," said the study’s co-author Ann Aschengrau, a professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health, in a press release. It must have been years that pregnant women have been experiencing these pregnancy complications without knowing why. Although further testing on PCE is necessary, the researchers want to look at the links between all chemicals and their possible health hazards.

Source: Aschengrau A, Carwile JL, Mahalingaiah S, Winter MR. Prenatal drinking-water exposure to tetrachloroethylene and ischemic placental disease: a retrospective cohort study. Environmental Health. 2014.