New worries about risks PFAS and other chemicals pose for pregnancies

By Carey Gillam
California researchers have found new evidence that several chemicals used in plastic production and a wide array of other industrial applications are commonly present in the blood of pregnant women, creating increased health risks for mothers and their babies.

The researchers said 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,” said Tracey Woodruff, professor and director of the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment. “It’s urgent we do more to understand the role that chemicals have in maternal conditions and health inequities. We are being exposed to hundreds of chemicals and this research contributes to better understanding the impact they are having on our health.”

Maternal death rates in the US doubled between 1999 and 2019, with mortality highest for African-American mothers.

In the government-funded study, which was published Wednesday in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, a team led by Woodruff and other UCSF researchers said they found multiple harmful chemicals, including types of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), in the blood of 302 pregnant study participants as well as in the umbilical cord blood of their babies.

At least 97% of the blood samples contained a type of PFAS known as PFOS, which has long been associated with multiple serious health problems, including birth defects.