Industrial chemicals have become increasingly common in everyday life. They're almost impossible to get away from. But now, a study found that certain chemicals may be passing from mother to baby and there are some concerns about it. None of this is any mom's fault, because these chemicals are passed without anyone realizing. The research, though, presents a lot of new concerns surrounding these super common chemicals.
In a study recently published in the journal Environment International, researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden found that PFAS chemicals, which are in all kinds of consumer products, may pass from pregnant woman to fetus through the placenta during pregnancy and build up in fetal tissue.
PFAS stands for perfluoroalkyl substances (and polyfluoroalkyl substances). According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, PFAS are "a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals." The EPA noted that PFAS have been made and used in a variety of ways since the 1940s.
These chemicals are water-resistant and grease-resistant, according to the Karolinska Institutet, so they're often used in common products like frying pans, food packaging, clothes, cleaning products, and more.
PFAS can build up in living things over time and there's even some evidence that being exposed to PFAS can cause "adverse human health effects," according to the EPA. Now, researchers have uncovered information that points to the need to better understand how PFAS may be impacting babies.
Researchers focused on six PFAS substances, as outlined by the study's abstract: perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA), perfluoroundecanoic acid (PFUnA), and perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS).
For the study, researchers worked with tissue samples from 78 embryos and fetuses aged 7 to 42 weeks from biobanks in Sweden and Denmark, according to EurekAlert!. Researchers discovered that PFAS levels were highest in the lung and liver tissue (sometimes as high as adults) and lowest in the brain, according to the Karolinska Institutet.
This means that, when a baby is born, they already have a stored amount of these chemicals in their lungs, liver, brain, and beyond.
"The compounds were detected in all analyzed tissues, suggesting that PFASs reach and may affect many types of organs," researchers wrote in the study's abstracting, adding, "Collectively, our results demonstrate that PFASs pass the placenta and deposit to embryo and fetal tissues, calling for risk assessment of gestational exposures."
Researchers are calling for additional studies to be done, so they can better understand how these chemicals are moving through the placenta and what sort of affect they may ultimately have. They noted in the study's abstract, for example, that PFAS chemicals were higher in male fetuses than female.
Outside of household products, PFAS chemicals can be found in a few other places. According to the EPA, food and drinking water can sometimes be impacted. Dr. Pauliina Damdimopoulou, senior researcher, said the main source of PFAS chemicals now is food, such as fish, milk, meat, and eggs, as per the Karolinska Institutet. In addition, PFAS chemicals have been found in some drinking water — the Trump administration's EPA has decided not to regulate PFOA and PFOS under the Safe Drinking Water Act, as Politico reported.
Right now, a lot more research needs to be done to fully understand these results. But, they will hopefully lead more researchers to examine just how PFAS chemicals are impacting babies and adults alike.