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109 Industrial Chemicals Found in Pregnant Women

Researchers found 109 industrial chemicals in blood samples taken from Bay Area pregnant women — 55 of the chemicals have never before been seen in humans.

Forty-two “mystery chemicals” were found in the blood of 30 Bay Area pregnant women, according to a recent study conducted by scientists at University of California, San Francisco.

The researchers took blood samples from pregnant women and from the fetal umbilical cords and found 109 industrial chemicals. Fifty-five chemicals were never-before-seen in humans, and 42 could not be traced back to any definite sources.

The study builds on evidence that a lack of industry transparency is exposing people to a cocktail of chemicals — with unknown health consequences.

“It’s the role of the government to ensure that chemicals used in the marketplace are known,” Tracey Woodruff, a professor of Ob/Gyn and reproductive sciences at University of California, San Francisco, told Environmental Health News (EHN). “That’s obviously not the system we’re in right now.”

Toxics in mothers 

Using high-resolution mass spectrometry, the team strayed away from normal biomonitoring practice, which typically looks to identify already known chemicals and their hazardous effects.

Instead, the focus was measuring the unknown.

The researchers took maternal blood samples during labor and delivery. Blood samples from umbilical cords were taken after delivery.

Of the chemicals that could be characterized in these samples, most came from common industrial products such as plasticizers, cosmetics and pesticides. Some were high production volume chemicals, meaning that they’re imported in the U.S. at one million-plus pounds annually.

The team did find chemicals in the mothers that have already been deemed harmful. For example, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are found in products such as stain- and water-resistant clothing, nonstick pots and pans, firefighting foam, carpets and furniture can cause numerous developmental and immunological health consequences. They also detected two PFAS compounds in which there is no information on their source or use.

Additionally, the researchers found organophosphate flame retardants, which can cause health problems like endocrine disruption and reproductive effects. These are frequently used in furniture, building insulation, carpets and electronics.

The 42 mystery chemicals added to the researchers’ concern.

Hazardous chemicals can travel across the placenta through the umbilical cord to fetuses, who are particularly vulnerable to chemical exposures. While the team has not done toxicity testing on the mystery chemicals, the unknown risks, especially for infants, raise questions for corporate and governmental bodies whose duties are to release this information.