Alarming Study Unveils How “Forever Chemicals” Transfer From Mothers to Newborns

Mother Holding Newborn Baby

A recent study on PFAS exposure in infants shows that these chemicals are more likely to cross the placenta than transfer through breastfeeding, underscoring the need for stricter regulations and better protective measures for infants.

A recent study by Fudan University found high levels of PFAS in maternal and infant sera and breast milk, indicating significant placental transfer and underscoring the need for stringent regulations to protect infants from exposure.

Researchers have made a crucial scientific breakthrough by investigating the key mechanisms and health effects of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exposure in infants, examining how these chemicals are transmitted through the placenta and breast milk. This research represents a major advance in our comprehension of environmental pollutants and their effects on the most susceptible groups.

Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of chemicals extensively used in consumer goods production due to their hydrophobic and oleophobic properties and stability. However, their persistence in the environment and bioaccumulation in living organisms have sparked concerns about potential health effects. Previous studies have linked PFAS exposure to various adverse outcomes, including developmental issues in children.

Box Plots of Concentrations of PFAS in Infants

Box-plots of concentrations of PFAS with > 50% detection in maternal serum across trimesters (T1-T3), cord serum or breast milk (ng/mL). The lower and upper edges of the box represent the first and third quartiles, respectively, while the line inside the box denotes the median level. The whiskers mark the 5th and 95th percentiles. Credit: Eco-Environment & Health

A recent study published in Eco-Environment & Health on May 8, 2024, has highlighted the levels, health risks, and transport protein binding capabilities of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in early life based on the Shanghai Maternal-Child Pairs Cohort. Found in maternal serum, cord serum, and breast milk, these synthetic chemicals pose potential health risks for infants. Led by a research team from the School of Public Health at Fudan University, the research team meticulously analyzed the transfer mechanisms and impacts of these persistent chemicals, providing crucial insights into their pervasive presence from pregnancy to lactation.

Methodology and Key Findings

Employing high-performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry, the study analyzed 16 types of PFAS in 1,076 mother-child pairs. It revealed the detection rates and median concentrations of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and 6:2 Cl-PFESA, with PFOS most prevalent in maternal serum. Notably, the placental transfer efficiency of PFAS was higher than breastfeeding transfer, suggesting that these chemicals are more likely to cross the placenta and accumulate in the fetus. Additionally, the research utilized molecular docking to simulate the binding of PFAS to transport proteins, potentially influencing their distribution and transport within the body. These findings underscore the need for tighter PFAS regulations and further research into their environmental and health effects.

Ms. Yaqi Xu, lead author of the study, states, “Our findings are crucial for developing strategies to protect infants from the potentially harmful effects of PFAS exposure. Understanding the pathways and risks associated with these chemicals can lead to better regulatory policies and protective measures for the most susceptible among us.”

The implications of this research are profound, particularly for public health policies and infant safety. By identifying specific PFAS compounds more likely to transfer through the placenta and into breast milk, preventive measures can be more effectively targeted. Moreover, the study’s findings could influence future guidelines on the use of PFAS-containing products by pregnant women and nursing mothers.

Reference: “Early-life exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances: Analysis of levels, health risk and binding abilities to transport proteins” by Yaqi Xu, Xinyao Sui, Jinhong Li, Liyi Zhang, Pengpeng Wang, Yang Liu, Huijing Shi and Yunhui Zhang, 8 May 2024, Eco-Environment & Health.
DOI: 10.1016/j.eehl.2024.04.007

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 82273585) and the National Key Research and Development Program of China (Grant No. 2022YFC2705004, 2019YFE0114500).

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