24.02.2024

California scientists detect 42 ‘mystery’ chemicals plus 55 in pregnant women never before seen in humans

In a study of pregnant women, scientists detected 109 chemicals, 55 of which have never been seen in humans before, and 42 of which have unknown sources.

Scientists at The University of California San Francisco found the chemicals in the women’s blood as well as in their newborn children, possibly meaning the chemicals will have made their way to the children via the mother’s placenta, according to the university.

They added that the most likely source of the chemicals is industrial sources and consumer products.

Dr Tracey Woodruff, professor of obstetrics, gynaecology and reproductive sciences at UCSF said: “These chemicals have probably been in people for quite some time, but our technology is now helping us to identify more of them,” according to SciTechDaily.

She added: “It is alarming that we keep seeing certain chemicals travel from pregnant women to their children, which means these chemicals can be with us for generations.”

The chemicals can be provisionally classified using chemical libraries, which are collections of molecules, but confirmation requires access to “pure chemicals” made by manufacturers called “analytical standards”. Manufacturers don’t always give access to these.

University of California San Francisco postdoctoral fellow Dimitri Panagopoulos Abrahamsson said that the “new technologies are promising in enabling us to identify more chemicals in people, but our study findings also make clear that chemical manufacturers need to provide analytical standards so that we can confirm the presence of chemicals and evaluate their toxicity,” according to SciTechDaily.

Out of the 109 chemicals found, 40 are used to make various materials more pliable, 28 are used in cosmetics, 25 are used in consumer products, 29 are used as pharmaceuticals, 23 as pesticides, and three as flame retardants.

Seven are PFAS compounds, which the EPA states are “a group of man-made chemicals” that has been “manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States, since the 1940s”.

PFAS compounds are used in carpeting and upholstery, among other things. Researchers added that the chemicals may also have other uses.

Of the 55 chemicals not previously found in humans, one is used as a pesticide, while two are PFAS that are “most likely used in the manufacturing of non-stick cookware and waterproof fabrics,” according to the university.

Ten are used as plasticisers, which can be found in things like food packaging, paper plates, and small appliances. Two are used in cosmetics and four are high-production-volume chemicals, which the EPA describe as chemicals “that are manufactured in or imported into the United States in amounts equal to or greater than one million pounds per year”.

Tracey Woodruff said: “It’s very concerning that we are unable to identify the uses or sources of so many of these chemicals,” adding that the “EPA must do a better job of requiring the chemical industry to standardise its reporting of chemical compounds and uses. And they need to use their authority to ensure that we have adequate information to evaluate potential health harms and remove chemicals from the market that pose a risk.”

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