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‘Forever chemicals’ detected in all umbilical cord blood in 40 studies | PFAS

Toxic PFAS chemicals were detected in every cord blood sample in 40 studies conducted over the past five years, according to a new review of scientific literature from around the world.

The studies collectively examined nearly 30,000 samples, and many linked fetal PFAS exposure to health complications in unborn babies, young children, and later in life. The findings of the studies are “worrying,” said Uloma Uche, an environmental health sciences fellow at the Environmental Working Group, who analyzed the data from the peer-reviewed studies.

“Even before you’re born, you’ve been exposed to PFAS,” she said.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyls, are a class of approximately 12,000 chemicals commonly used to make products resistant to water, stains and heat. They are called “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down and accumulate in the human body and the environment.

The federal government estimates they are found in 98% of Americans’ blood. The chemicals have been linked to birth defects, cancer, kidney disease, liver problems and other health problems, and the EPA recently determined that no level of exposure to some types of PFAS in water is safe.

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Humans are exposed to the ubiquitous chemicals through multiple routes. It is estimated that PFAS pollute the drinking water for more than 200 million people in the US and have been found in alarming amounts in meat, fish, dairy, crops and processed foods. They’re also in a range of everyday consumer products, such as non-stick cookware, food packaging, waterproof clothing, stain guards like Scotchgard, and some dental floss.

PFAS in products can be absorbed through the skin, ingested or inhaled as they break down from products and move through the air.

“The presence of these chemicals also poses a threat to pregnant people, as they serve as the first contact with PFAS before they can pass through the umbilical cord from the uterus to the developing fetus,” Uche said.

Scientists focused on cord blood because the umbilical cord is the lifeline between mother and baby. The findings are especially troubling because fetuses are “more vulnerable to these exposures because their developing bodies lack the mechanisms to deal with the chemicals,” Uche added.

The studies linked fetal exposure to higher total cholesterol and triglycerides in babies, and changes in their bodies’ bile acids, which may lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular problems later in life.

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Some studies also linked cord blood exposure to thyroid and colon microbial cell disruptions.

PFAS can remain in the body for years or even decades, and some studies link fetal exposure to effects throughout childhood and adulthood, including cognitive function, reproductive function, weight changes, eczema, and altered glucose balance.

The studies identified about 35 different types of PFAS compounds, including some newer chemicals that industry and some regulators claim do not accumulate in the body. However, science is limited in how many PFAS compounds it can detect in blood, so it’s very likely that many more of the chemicals are passed on to fetuses.

EWG said the best protection for women is to avoid using products containing PFAS and using reverse osmosis granulated activated carbon filters that can filter the chemicals, if they are in a mother’s drinking water.

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However, Uche said the findings underscore the need for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban all non-essential uses of PFAS, establish limits for all PFAS compounds in drinking water, industrial to stop discharges, and to set limits for PFAS in food.

Despite overwhelming evidence that all of the PFAS studied are persistent in the environment and toxic, the FDA and EPA have so far resisted banning non-essential uses of the chemicals. The EPA rolled out a comprehensive plan last year to curb chemical use and limit exposure, but public health advocates say it falls far short of what the situation demands. It also largely targets four of the 12,000 PFAS compounds.

“I’m a mother of two — I have a seven- and three-year-old, and knowing that I could have exposed my kids to PFAS is troubling,” Uche said. “With this review, we are telling the EPA and FDA to please take simple steps to reduce exposure to PFAS and protect our children.”

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