According to a recently published study, pregnant women’s exposure to chemicals has increased significantly over the last decade.
John Meeker is one of the study’s co-authors and professors at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. He says the study also shows that Hispanic and non-Hispanics and women with lower socioeconomic status and education had higher concentrations of more pesticides and parabens “in line with previous evidence that exposure to chemicals is often higher in women of color.”
A study funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in Environmental Science & Technology was conducted by the University of California, San Francisco. The researchers used urine samples from women who are part of the NIH Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program to look at their exposure to more than 100 chemicals listed in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), including pesticides and chemicals. from plastics and newer chemicals, which have been introduced as a substitute for chemicals considered hazardous.
Meeker, professor of environmental health sciences and global public health at UM, discusses the study.
What is the significance of this paper?
There are tens of thousands of chemicals that are used in the objects we come into contact with in every aspect of our lives, and we do not really know how many of these chemicals will reach consumers and whether there are adverse health consequences. those exposures. Those that we find to be toxic may eventually be replaced by something else, but that something else is usually a chemical we don’t know much about. It has not been tested. For many chemicals, this policy is a “innocent until proven guilty” approach to regulation.
Overall, our research seeks to assess people’s exposure to chemicals, their potential effects on health, and ultimately we would like to influence policies where we can not only limit the use of chemicals that ultimately prove harmful, but also try to do some of it. testing before production and distribution of chemicals in such high volumes as to limit widespread exposure and subsequent adverse health effects before they occur.
We use this study as a preliminary test to make sure that the laboratory methods we use work on a large scale to measure these chemicals so that we can evaluate even more chemicals over time.
Although, as far as we know, this is the first study to measure such a large amount of chemicals at once, at this point we are only scratching the surface. And we want to expand a similar analysis to eventually include up to 50,000 women and their children from dozens of cohorts that are part of the ECHO study.
What were some of your main findings?
We found that a large number of these roughly hundreds of chemicals were detectable in at least some women across the country, and we also found that “substitute chemicals,” those used to replace chemicals due to regulatory restrictions, are present in women.
We have seen some trends over time, so some chemicals appear to be increasing their exposure, especially substitute chemicals, while others appear to be able to decline over time. We also found evidence of patterns or higher exposures that may be experienced in some subgroups based on race, ethnicity, or other factors.
One of the reasons we want to extend this analysis to a larger subset of the ECHO population is the ability to help identify some of these trends. We saw that the detection rate and quantified levels of numerous chemicals were higher in Hispanic women. This could be because certain populations are more likely to use certain types of products or eat certain types of food, or it may be based on geographical location, perhaps living closer to sources of pollution.
There are also likely to be important differences in the ability to take measures to reduce individual exposure, such as consuming more organic and fresh food to avoid pesticides and other chemicals associated with food processing and packaging. With our sample size, we are not really ready to draw conclusions from these more detailed explanations, but these trends are real and will require further testing to help explain them.
What will happen next with this project?
This project continues and is a relatively large company with many scientists, study staff and participants. We are working to combine dozens of cohorts and to create a new protocol that will be shared between all cohorts to ensure more consistent data collection in the future. We hope that in the end we will have data that can inform about regulation, so we will take a more active approach to synthetic chemicals in our environment.
Buckley, JP et al. (2022) Exposure to Contemporary and Emerging Chemicals in Commerce among Pregnant Women in the United States: The Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcome (ECHO) Program. Environmental Science Technology. doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.1c08942.
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