Tuesday, 25 July 2023

Researchers find evidence of toxic chemicals from cosmetics and plastics in the blood of pregnant women

 In a study published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, California researchers found new evidence that several chemicals used in plastic production and other industrial applications are commonly present in the blood of pregnant women, creating increased health risks for mothers and their babies.

The study recruited and enrolled women from the Chemicals in Our Bodies cohort in San Francisco between 2014 and 2018. These women were 18-40 years of age, English or Spanish speaking, pregnant with only one baby, in their second trimester and had no diagnosed pregnancy complications at recruitment.

Researchers collected paired maternal and umbilical cord blood from all 302 participants who agreed to bank their samples and be contacted for participation in future studies.  

Toxic industrial chemicals are harming mothers and infants

Researchers detected nine environmental chemicals in the serum samples – at least four chemicals in maternal samples and three chemicals in cord samples. These chemicals were:

  • Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – these include branched perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), linear PFOS, and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS)

  • Deoxycholic acid – a bile acid associated with gestational diabetes

  • Tridecanedioic acid and octadecanedioic acid – abnormal fatty acids that have exogenous sources, primarily from plastics synthesis

  • Monoethylhexyl phthalate (MEHP) – a metabolite of diethylhexyl phthalate, a common plasticizer

  • Tetraethylene glycol (TEG) – a plasticizer and solvent used in cosmetics, metal and printing inks

  • 4-Nitrophenol – a known endocrine disruptor used in dyes, pharmaceuticals and pesticides

PFHxS, linear PFOS, deoxycholic acid and octadecanedioic acid were all detected in at least 97 percent of maternal samples. Deoxycholic acid, tridecanedioic acid and PFHxS were detected in at least 87 percent of cord blood samples.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), current peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown that PFAS can cause:

  • Developmental delays in children, including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations and behavioral changes

  • Increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity

  • Increased risk of some cancers, including prostate, kidney and testicular cancers

  • Hormone disruption

  • Reduced ability of the body's immune system to fight infections

  • Reproductive issues such as decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women

Researchers associated many of the chemicals found in the maternal blood samples with an increased risk of gestational diabetes (the rates of which are climbing in the U.S.), pre-eclampsia (a serious and sometimes deadly pregnancy complication) and pregnancy-related hypertension.

Meanwhile, tridecanedioic acid and octadecanedioic acid have previously only been documented in people suffering from Reye’s syndrome – a rare but serious condition that affects all organs of the body, particularly the brain and the liver. Reye's syndrome causes an acute increase of pressure within the brain and, often, massive accumulations of fat in the liver and other organs.

The researchers said their study should be a wake-up call as their findings add to a growing body of evidence showing that many chemicals people are routinely exposed to are leading to subtle but harmful changes in health.

"This is such an important issue. It’s urgent we do more to understand the role that chemicals have in maternal conditions and health inequities," said Tracey Woodruff, director of the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) program on reproductive health and the environment.

"We are being exposed to hundreds of chemicals and this research contributes to better understanding the impact they are having on our health."

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world. Maternal death rates in the U.S. doubled between 1999 and 2019, with mortality being the highest for Black mothers.

The study 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 U.S. cities.

Elevated levels of PFAS were discovered in Austin, Denver and Los Angeles, as well as in smaller communities like Glencoe, Illinois and Monroe, New Jersey.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a unit of the U.S. Department of the Interior, reported that 45 percent of U.S. drinking water is contaminated with PFAS.

There are more than 12,000 types of PFAS chemicals, which are also called "forever chemicals" because they persist not only in the environment but also in the bodies of animals and people.

PFAS have been linked to health problems including cancer, decreased fertility and kidney disease. The chemicals, which have been used to make many popular consumer goods, can leach into drinking water from industrial sites, sewage treatment plants, landfills or certain firefighting foams.

U.S. officials have proposed national drinking water standards for six types of PFAS, and the EPA has announced a new framework aimed at preventing some new PFAS chemicals from entering the market.

Chemical giants 3M and Dupont recently agreed to settlements that may provide affected communities billions of dollars to test for toxic chemicals and remove them from their drinking water.

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