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Member Research and Reports

UMass: Study Finds PFAS Chemicals Transfer from Mother to Fetus at Higher Rate in Women With Gestational Diabetes

Environmental epidemiologists studying the presence of PFAS compounds in new mothers and their babies found that women with gestational diabetes had a “significantly higher” rate of transferring the synthetic chemicals to their fetus.

The newly published study in Environment International is among the largest to date in terms of the number of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) examined – 17. Those particular compounds are among the PFAS chemicals associated with growing health concerns, including cancer risk, hormone interference, immune system suppression and developmental disruptions in infants and children.

“The contamination is all over the world,” says Dr. Youssef Oulhote, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the study’s corresponding author. “We find them even in polar bears.”

Blood and umbilical cord samples from 151 mother-newborn pairs in the Faroe Islands were examined by Dr. Oulhote and public health colleagues at Sorbonne University in Paris, the University of Southern Denmark, the Faroese Hospital System and Harvard University, where Dr. Oulhote began his research into the health effects of chemicals.

The study was the largest to date to model both the ratios of transplacental transfer and the patterns of transfer in the blood and plasma of multiple PFAS with different physical and chemical properties and different maternal and newborn characteristics.

The study was the first to note the effects of gestational diabetes. “It’s one of the most consistent results we got,” Dr. Oulhote says. “There was up to a 50 percent greater transfer on average” in mothers with gestational diabetes.”

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