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Persistent Organic Pollutants, including Banned Pesticides, Remain Present in all Fetal Organs Regardless of Maternal Chemical Contamination

A study published in Chemosphere finds persistent organic pollutants (POPs), including organochlorine pesticides (OCPs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), are present in the serum and placenta of pregnant mothers, as well as multiple fetal organs. Many studies indicate prenatal and early-life exposure to environmental toxicants increases susceptibility to diseases, from learning and developmental disabilities to cancer. However, this study is one of the first to demonstrate the presence of chemical toxicants in fetal tissue that are not present in maternal serum or placental samples. Prenatal development is one of the most vulnerable periods of exposure when the fetus is most susceptible to the harmful effects of chemical contaminants. Therefore, studies like these help government and health officials better identify fetal exposure contaminants and subsequent health concerns otherwise missed by current chemical monitoring methods. The researchers note, “These findings call for further evaluation of the current matrices used to estimate fetal exposure and establish a possible correction factor for a more accurate assessment of exposure in utero. We disclose the full data set on individual exposure concentrations to assist in building in silico models for prediction of human fetal exposure to chemicals.”

Several studies associate early-life exposure to toxic chemicals with adverse birth/health effects. However, fetal exposure measurements typically use maternal and placenta chemical concentrations rather than actual fetal exposure. Researchers used tandem mass spectrometry to measure chemical concentrations from maternal blood and placenta samples, as well as the liver, heart, lungs, brain, and fatty (adipose) tissues of fetuses. Using gas chromatography, the researchers tested for concentrations of nine different OCPs, ten different PCBs, and three different PBDEs. The cohort included women from 20 pregnancies who gave birth to a stillborn infant. Furthermore, scientists incorporated data from fetal exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in the same cohort.