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Study makes alarming connection between umbilical cord blood and increased risk of birth defects: 'It's urgent we do more'

The findings from a recent study are concerning, to say the least.

‘Forever chemicals’ found to infiltrate umbilical cord blood

Photo Credit: iStock

"Forever chemicals" have been linked to another health issue. In a study published July 19 in Environmental Health Perspectives, perfluorooctane sulfonate and three other forever chemicals were found in 97% of maternal blood samples. Three forever chemicals were detected in 87% of umbilical cord blood samples.

PFOS is an especially dangerous type of PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance, that has been linked to health problems, including birth defects.

The chemical, along with perfluorooctanoic acid, is "an immune hazard to humans based on a high level of evidence that PFOA and PFOS suppressed the antibody response from animals and a moderate level of evidence from studies in humans," according to the United States Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The effects of forever chemicals also include increased risk of some cancers, thyroid disease, higher cholesterol levels, and liver damage.

What happened?

The study tested 302 blood samples from pregnant people. PFAS are linked to pregnancy complications, including increased risk of miscarriage and preeclampsia, according to the study authors.

Their work showed gestational diabetes mellitus correlated with increased exposure to forever chemicals.

Increased odds of pregnancy hypertensive disorders were also observed, though the association was not as strong.

"The chemical measurements reflect a snapshot of an individual's exposure history during pregnancy; however, the sources and uses of these environmental chemicals imply that there is a potential for prolonged exposure throughout the pregnancy," the study authors wrote. "In addition, studies have demonstrated consistency of PFAS levels from the first through the third trimesters."

Why is this study concerning?

"Chemicals with fatty acid-like structures, including PFAS and other long-chain hydrocarbons, can interact with abnormal fatty acid metabolism, impacting placental development," the authors wrote.

The chemicals are used to make plastics, but their impact on pregnant people has not been studied much, according to the study.

"The long-chain fatty acids found have previously only been documented in people suffering from Reye's syndrome — a serious condition that causes swelling in the liver and brain — but not in healthy individuals," the Guardian reported, noting "little is known about their health impacts."

What's being done?

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a national standard for forever chemical limits in drinking water, and chemical manufacturer 3M in June said it would pay a $10.3 billion settlement for using PFAS that contaminated public drinking water.

"It's urgent we do more to understand the role that chemicals have in maternal conditions and health inequities," Tracey Woodruff, one of the study authors, told the Guardian. "We are being exposed to hundreds of chemicals, and this research contributes to better understanding the impact they are having on our health."

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