Study: Industrial Chemicals Pass From Mother to Fetus Throughout Pregnancy

The levels in the fetus were highest in the lung and liver tissue—in some cases as high as in adults.
ByStephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
January 31, 2019
pregnant woman holding her sonogram
Image: iStock

Industrial chemicals found in many consumer products pass through the placenta during pregnancy and build up in the fetal tissue, according to a recent study.

The study included tissue samples from 78 embryos and fetuses 7 to 42 weeks from biobanks in Sweden and Denmark. The research was included in Environment International and researchers hope it leads to more studies on the effect these chemicals have on the fetus.

The perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals are made up of thousands of human-made chemicals, which are used on frying pans, food packaging, cleaning agents and fire-fighting foams.

The researchers “found that all appear to the same extent in fetal tissue as in the placenta," says Richelle Duque Björvang. “So when the baby is born, it already has a build-up of these chemicals in the lungs, liver, brain and elsewhere in the body.”

PFAS levels in the fetuses were highest in the lung and liver tissue—in some cases as high as in adults—and lowest in the brain. Additionally, the accumulation of PFAS substances was higher in male fetuses than female.

“This shows how important it is for more research to be done on the health effects of different chemicals, especially in the longer term,” says Pauliina Damdimopoulou, senior researcher at the Department of Clinical Science, Intervention and Technology.

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