Researchers from Sweden have found that dangerous chemicals present in various consumer products may pass from a pregnant woman through her placenta to her growing baby, and the chemicals can build up in fetal tissue.
We know that exposure to toxic chemicals is dangerous for both mother and baby, but now that industrial chemicals are more and more common in so many aspects of our lives, it’s important to pay attention to that exposure, particularly when pregnant. A study from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden found that PFAS chemicals may pass from pregnant women to their growing babies through their placenta during pregnancy, and even build up in the baby’s fetal tissue.
Related: The Toxic Truth About Household Dust
PFAS is the acronym for perfluoroalkyl substances (or polyfluroalkyl substances) that are found in many everyday things; things like food packaging, clothing, frying pans, cleaning products and more. They are one of a group of man-made chemicals that have been used in many ways since the 1940s. Other chemicals in that group include PFOA, PFOS and GenX.
According to the Karolinska Institutet, because PFAS are water-resistant and grease-resistant, they’re often used in things like food packaging, clothes, cookware, cleaning products and many other common household goods.
They can build up over time in living things and even the Environmental Protection Agency says that there is some evidence that PFAS exposure can cause adverse effects. However, there are few regulations on the chemicals.
The researchers with this study focused on six different PFAS substances they listed in their study abstract: perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA), perfluoroundecanoic acid (PFUnA), and perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS).
They looked at fetal tissue samples of 78 different embryos and babies from seven weeks to 42 weeks, which came from biobanks in Sweden and Denmark. They found that PFAS levels were highest in lung and liver tissue, and lowest in the brain. Some of the buildup levels were as high as an adult’s buildup, and show that when babies are born, they can already have stored amounts of these chemicals in their brains, lungs, livers and other organs.
Paulina Damdimopoulou is a senior researcher at the Department of Clinical Science, Intervention and Technology at the Karolinska Institutet and says that their research emphasizes how important it is for more research to be done on the effects of chemical exposure, as threshold values are based on adults, but babies in utero are just as, if not more susceptible to the toxicity.
Further, the researchers said that because the results showed that PFASs pass through the placenta and affect embryonic and fetal tissue, more risk assessment and additional studies need to be done for gestational exposure. They found that PFAS chemicals were higher in males than females, though they’re not sure why.
The highest exposure to PFAS chemicals comes from foods like fish, milk, meat and eggs, according to the Karolinska Institutet, while the EPA adds that PFASs are found in a few other places. That said, the Trump administration’s EPA chose not to regulate PFOAs or PFOS (two of the best known PFASs) under their Safe Drinking Water Act, which means that we have to be even more diligent in protecting our families.
The European Union banned PFOS in 2008 and the European Food Safety Authority lowered the tolerable daily intake levels of PFOS and PFOA exposure tremendously, noting the concern for exposure.