California researchers have found new evidence that some chemicals used in the production of plastic and a wide range of other industrial applications are commonly present in the blood of pregnant women, creating increased health risks for mothers and their babies.
The researchers said their findings add to a growing body of evidence showing that there are many chemicals that people are exposed to on a regular basis that lead to subtle but harmful changes in health. The work should be a “wake-up call” for policymakers, they said.
“This is such an important issue,” said Tracey Woodruff, professor and director of the University of California San Francisco’s (UCSF) program on reproductive health and the environment. “It is urgent that we do more to understand the role of chemicals in maternal conditions and health imbalances. We are exposed to hundreds of chemicals and this research contributes to a better understanding of their impact on our health.”
The US has the highest maternal mortality in the developed world. Maternal death rates in the US twice between 1999 and 2019, with the highest mortality for Black mothers.
In government funded studypublished Wednesday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives , a team led by Woodruff and other UCSF researchers said it found numerous harmful chemicals, including types of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), in the blood of 302 pregnant study participants as well as the umbilical cord blood of their babies.
At least 97% of the blood samples contained a type of PFAS called PFOS, which has long been linked to multiple serious health problems, including birth defects. The new findings of PFOS in maternal blood samples come despite the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Announced agreement with PFOS maker 3M more than 23 years ago to phase out the use of PFOS.
Other chemicals found in most pregnant women included abnormal fatty acids and other chemicals used to make pesticides, certain medicines and plastics.
The researchers said that many of the chemicals found in the mother’s blood are associated with an increased risk of gestational diabetes, whose rates climbing in the USA; pre-eclampsia, a serious and sometimes fatal pregnancy complication; and pregnancy-related hypertension.
The long-chain fatty acids previously found have only been documented in people suffering from Reye’s syndrome – a serious condition that causes swelling of the liver and brain – but not in healthy people, the researchers noted.
The specific types of fatty acids found in the study participants’ blood are of particular concern because little is known about their health effects and they are used in the production of plastics, said Jessica Trowbridge, another author of the study who is associated with UCSF.
The work, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the EPA, should be seen as a “wake-up call” to policymakers about the effects of the proliferation of plastic and PFAS chemicals, Woodruff said. said.
The research paper comes at the same time that new testing commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found the “widespread presence” of PFAS in the drinking water of dozens of US cities. Elevated levels of PFAS were found in Austin, Denver and Los Angeles, as well as in smaller communities including Glencoe, Illinois; Monroe, New Jersey; and elsewhere.
Earlier this month, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), a unit of the US Department of the Interior, reported that 45% of US drinking water contaminated with PFAS.
There are more than 12,000 types of PFAS chemicals, sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they do not break down naturally and persist not only in the environment, but also in the bodies of animals and humans.
PFAS have been linked to health problems including cancer, reduced fertility and kidney disease. The chemicals, used to make many common consumer goods, can leach into drinking water from industrial sites, sewage treatment plants, landfills or certain firefighting foams.
US officials have proposed national drinking water standards for six types of PFAS, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new framework aimed at preventing some new PFAS chemicals from entering the market.
Chemical giants 3M and Dupont, and other manufacturers, recently agreed to settlements that could provide billions of dollars to affected communities to test for the toxic chemicals and remove them from their drinking water.
This story is co-published with the New Lead, a journalism project of the Environmental Working Group