Pregnant women, babies at risk from everyday chemicals

Evidence suggests that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), a family of industrial chemicals used in a wide range of everyday products, may harm pregnant mothers and their babies.

PFASs, which have waterproofing and grease-proofing qualities, are found in hundreds of consumer products, including stain- and water-resistant furniture, outdoor gear, cosmetics, dental floss, and disposable food packaging. Major sources of exposure include drinking water, carpets, tainted seafood, microwave popcorn, and takeout food served in grease-resistant containers.

According to a September 23, 2020 New York Times article that catalogued recent research on PFASs, scientists think that the chemicals may harm mothers and babies by interfering with gene regulators and hormones, which control metabolism and immunity. Research has found that women exposed to PFASs during pregnancy have higher rates of gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, and their babies may have low birthweights and face increased risk of childhood obesity and infections.

Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told the New York Times that evidence shows that PFASs can pass through the placenta. That means that newborns can get a dose of PFASs both in the womb and also when they nurse, since the chemicals concentrate in breast milk. He noted that companies aren’t required to determine whether a chemical crosses the placenta or passes through mother’s milk. “What’s so frustrating is that we’ve been chasing a train that already left the station,” he said. “We are decades too late.”

Read the New York Times article: These Everyday Toxins May Be Hurting Pregnant Women and Their Babies

Learn more

The dangers of ‘secret’ chemicals (Harvard Chan School news)