On September 23, 2020, The New York Times published an article investigating the widespread use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and their investigated adverse health effects on pregnant women and their babies. The article introduces the story of a mother in the US state of New York who discovered her family had levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA; CAS 335-67-1) in their blood 50 times the national average. The children are reported to now be suffering from ailments linked with PFAS exposure. Similar stories from families living near former Teflon production sites are referenced throughout. The article goes on to introduce the history of PFAS manufacturing as well as the growing concerns around the class of chemicals, their many uses, and the ongoing discussions between health advocates, regulators, and PFAS manufacturers on the scientific evidence surrounding their safety.
Scientific studies cited in the article show that fetuses can be exposed to PFAS present in the mother during development since they have been seen to pass through the placenta. “That means newborns can get a double dose of PFAS, first in the womb and then when they nurse. The few studies that examined children under the age of 2 found PFAS levels increase during the first six months, likely from breastfeeding.” Leonardo Trasande, a children’s environmental health researcher at New York University, commented “there’s rising evidence that kids who are exposed to PFAS get more infections.” However, a spokesperson for PFAS manufacturer 3M insisted that “there’s no cause and effect for adverse human health effects at the levels that we are exposed to as a general population.” Numerous advocacy groups and government agencies have been calling for widespread restrictions on PFAS use, including in food packaging (FPF reported).
Given the currently diverse product applications for PFAS, the article emphasizes the difficulty for pregnant women to try and avoid the chemicals. Rebecca Fuoco is a scientific communications expert at the Green Science Policy Institute. Even though she is professionally familiar with the class substances, she said her own expertise was not enough when she was pregnant. “Even with all the advantages I had, it was impossible for me to completely eliminate my baby’s exposure because PFAS are ubiquitous and invisible.”
This article is the second in a three-part series investigating our exposure to chemicals at home. The first article on phthalates and their impacts on fertility was published in August 2020, and the final article will focus on flame retardants.
Liza Gross (September 23, 2020). “These Everyday Toxins May Be Hurting Pregnant Women and Their Babies.” New York Times
Liza Gross (September 23, 2020). “The 3 Scariest Chemicals to Watch Out For in Your Home.” New York Times
Liza Gross (August 25, 2020). “This Chemical Can Impair Fertility, but It’s Hard to Avoid.” New York Times