A 12-year national study recruited a highly diverse group of pregnant women and found that they are increasingly exposed to chemicals in plastics and pesticides, which may be harmful to development.
Many of the chemicals these women are exposed to are substitute chemicals: banned or phased out new forms of chemicals that may be as harmful as substituted chemicals. The study also found that many women have been exposed to neonicotine, an insecticide that is toxic to bees.
Researchers measured 103 chemicals, mainly from pesticides, plastics and substitutes for BPA and phthalates. They used a new method to capture dozens of chemicals or chemical traces from a single urine sample.
More than 80% of the chemicals were found in at least one woman participating in the study, and more than one third of the chemicals were found in most participants. The study also found that the contents of some of these chemicals were higher than those seen in earlier studies.
Dr. Tracey J. Woodruff, professor and director of the reproductive health and environment program at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and co director of the UCSF earth center, said: “this is the first time that we can measure the content of chemicals in such a large and diverse group of pregnant women – not just identify chemicals.” She is also a senior author of this study, which was published in the online edition of environmental science and technology on May 10, 2022. “Our results clearly show that the number and range of chemicals in pregnant women are increasing during the period when the development of pregnant women and fetuses is very fragile.”
Prenatal exposure to industrial chemicals can come from air, food, water, plastics and other industrial and consumer goods. Although these chemicals may be harmful to pregnancy and child development, few chemicals are routinely monitored in the human body.
The study included 171 women from California, Georgia, Illinois, New Hampshire, New York and Puerto Rico, who were part of the National Institutes of health’s child health environmental impact program. About one third (34%) are white, 40% are Latino, 20% are black, and the remaining 6% are from other or more groups.
The study found that non white women, less educated women, single women or women who have been exposed to tobacco are more likely to be exposed to tobacco. However, the preservative p-hydroxybenzoate in Latino people, as well as phthalates and bisphenol substances used in plastics, are particularly high.
Dr. Jesse Barkley, the first author of the study and associate professor of environmental health and engineering and epidemiology at the Bloomberg School of public health at Johns Hopkins University, said: “although pesticides and alternative chemicals are common in all women, we were surprised to find that the contents of p-hydroxybenzoates, phthalates and bisphenols in Latin American people are much higher.” “This may be due to more exposure to products containing chemicals, such as processed food or personal care products,” Buckley said.
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