40 studies conducted over the past five years have detected toxic PFAS chemicals in every cord blood sample, a new review of scientific literature from around the world has found.
The studies collectively examined nearly 30,000 samples, and many associated fetal PFASs exposed to unborn babies, young children, and health complications later in life. The study’s findings are “troubling,” said Uloma Uche, an environmental health science fellow with the Environmental Working Group, which analyzed data from peer-reviewed studies.
“Even before you came into the world, you’re already exposed to PFAS,” she said.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 12,000 chemicals commonly used to make products resist water, stains, and heat. They are called “forever chemicals” because they do not break down naturally, and accumulate in the human body and environment.
The federal government estimates that they are found in the blood of 98% of Americans. The chemicals have been linked to birth defects, cancer, kidney disease, liver problems and other health problems, and the EPA recently found that no level of exposure to certain types of PFAS in water is safe.
Humans are exposed to ubiquitous chemicals through several routes. PFASs are estimated to contaminate drinking water for more than 200 million people in the US, and have been found at alarming levels in meat, fish, dairy, crops, and processed foods. They are also in a range of everyday consumer products, such as nonstick cookware, food packaging, waterproof clothing, Scotchgards such as StainGard, and some dental floss.
The PFAS in products can be absorbed through the skin, swallowed or inhaled as they are separated from the products and passed into the air.
“The presence of these chemicals also poses a risk to pregnant people, which can pass from the uterus through the placenta to the developing fetus as a first contact with PFAS,” Uche said.
Scientists focused on cord blood because the umbilical cord is the lifeline between mother and baby. The findings are particularly troubling because fetuses “are more vulnerable to these risks because their developing bodies do not have the mechanisms to deal with the chemicals”, Uche said.
Studies have linked fetal exposure to high total cholesterol and triglycerides in infants, and changes in their body’s bile acids, which may lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular problems later in life.
Some studies also linked exposure to cord blood with disruption of the thyroid glands and microbial cells in the colon.
PFAS can persist in the body for years or decades, and some studies link fetal effects to childhood and adulthood, including cognitive function, reproductive function, changes in weight, eczema and altered glucose balance.
The studies identified about 35 different types of PFAS compounds, including some new chemicals that industry and some regulators claim do not accumulate in the body. However, science is limited in the number of PFAS compounds it can detect in blood, so it is highly likely that many more chemicals were passed on to fetuses.
EWG said the best protection for women is to avoid using products containing PFAS and to use reverse osmosis of granular activated carbon filters that can filter out chemicals if they are in the mother’s drinking water.
However, Uche said the findings require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban all non-essential uses of PFAS, establish limits on all PFAS compounds in drinking water, and stop industrial discharges. underline. And establish limits for PFAS in food.
Despite overwhelming evidence that all of the PFASs studied are persistent and toxic in the environment, the FDA and EPA have so far resisted banning the non-essential use of the chemicals. The EPA last year laid out a comprehensive plan to rein in the use of the chemicals and limit exposure, but public health advocates say it falls far short of what the situation demands. It focuses on four of the roughly 12,000 PFAS compounds.
“I’m a mother of two – I have a seven- and three-year-old, and knowing that I may be exposing my children to PFAS is troubling,” Uche said. “With this review we are asking the EPA and FDA to please take simple steps to reduce PFAS exposure and protect our children.”