Umbilical Cord Blood Tests Reveal Widespread PFAS Contamination

A newly born child with an umbilical cord
PFAS “forever chemicals” have been found in umbilical cord blood in more than 40 studies. stockce / iStock / Getty Images Plus
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Five years of research, more than 40 studies, and over 30,000 samples reveal per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also called “forever chemicals,” are present in umbilical cord blood. Further, many of the studies linked PFAS in umbilical cord blood with health issues of the fetus during the parent’s pregnancy, in childhood, and as adults.

“Even before you’ve come into the world, you’re already exposed to PFAS,” Uloma Uche, an environmental health science fellow with the Environmental Working Group (EWG), said of the findings. EWG conducted the analysis on the studies.

PFAS have earned the name “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment and have been found in remote parts of the world as well as in our food and water and even in human blood. Studies have linked PFAS to health risks in humans, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that these chemicals can bioaccumulate in fish and wildlife.

These chemicals are found in many everyday products, including food packaging, cosmetics and other personal care items, water-repellent fabrics for clothing and housewares and more. They are pervasive in the environment and have been identified in soil, water and air.

“The presence of these chemicals is also a threat to pregnant people, serving as first contacts with PFAS before they can pass from the uterus to the developing fetus by way of the umbilical cord,” Uche explained, as reported by The Guardian.

The studies linked PFAS exposure to fetuses through umbilical cord blood to higher cholesterol levels and changes in bile acids, which could lead to higher risk of cardiovascular issues in the future. Some studies also linked the chemicals to issues with cognitive and reproductive functions decades after fetal exposure.

While parents can try to minimize PFAS exposure in personal care products and by using activated charcoal filters for water, Uche said the analysis of these studies shows an importance for policies on PFAS.

EWG is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish PFAS limits in food and water, ban non-essential uses of PFAS and ban industrial discharges of PFAS into the environment.

“There are no federal regulations for PFAS in many consumer products, even with substantial scientific evidence linking PFAS exposure to adverse health impacts,” EWG said in a press release. “The EPA, [FDA] and other federal regulators should prioritize public health, especially for vulnerable populations like pregnant people and babies.”

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