Chemicals and pregnancy complications: findings from nontargeted analysis
In a recent webinar, Dr. Jessica Trowbridge and Dr. Tracey Woodruff presented a new study which used nontargeted analysis (NTA) methods to identify environmental chemicals that are not regularly studied. This research used the results of NTA methods to identify nine environmental chemicals in maternal samples and in cord blood, and their association with adverse pregnancy outcomes — measuring some of these chemicals for the first time in pregnant people.
Fewer than one percent of the more than 40,000 chemicals imported, processed, or used in the U.S. are regularly biomonitored. Fewer still are evaluated for exposure levels or health impacts among pregnant people or children.
Targeted analysis can be used to measure exposures to known toxicants. This approach, however, will not identify exposures to unknown chemicals. For unknown chemicals, researchers are turning to nontargeted analysis (NTA).
While NTA can help identify exposures, it does not quantify exposure levels; this approach can tell you what chemicals are present, but not their concentrations. This study measured concentrations of chemicals previously identified by NTA in maternal serum and cord blood samples, then looked for associations between those chemical exposures and pregnancy complications.
- Researchers found multiple chemical exposures in all study participants and in most cord blood samples.
- Chemicals measured included perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), abnormal fatty acids used in plastics production, and solvents used in consumer products, pesticide production, and plastics production.
- PFAS and the abnormal fatty acids identified were found to be associated with increased odds of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). The fatty acids were also found to be associated with preeclampsia and pregnancy-related hypertension.
"CHE Science Snippet" Webinar Preview
The limitations of biomonitoring studies
Biomonitoring studies can identify chemicals and their risks to pregnancy and health only after we have already been exposed. However, the speakers emphasized that to better protect health, chemicals should be screened for safety before, not after, their use and resulting exposures become widespread.
“These chemicals should be known and identified, so that we know where they're being used in commerce and we know their potential for adverse health effects — so we can prevent the exposures before we have to detect them in biomonitoring studies.”
This organizational blog was produced by CHE's Science Writer, Matt Lilley.