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Exposure to ‘forever chemicals’ begins before birth

September 28, 2022

Toxic ‘forever chemicals’ linked to cancer and heart disease are so widespread that foetuses are being exposed to them, a new review of scientific literature from around the world has found.

Exposure to ‘forever chemicals’ begins before birth. Toxic ‘forever chemicals’ linked to cancer and heart disease are so widespread that exposure to them begins before birth. 'Forever chemicals' exposure begins before birth - studies reveal.

Scientists discovered harmful perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in every umbilical cord blood sample across 40 studies conducted over the past five years.

The studies collectively examined nearly 30,000 samples, and many linked fetal PFAS exposure to health complications in unborn babies, young children and older people.

Dubbed ‘forever chemicals’ because they do not naturally break down, and accumulate in human bodies and the environment, PFAS are a class of about 12,000 chemicals commonly used to make products resist water, stains, and heat.

PFAS are estimated to be contaminating the drinking water for over 200 million people in the USA and have been found at alarming levels in meat, fish, dairy, crops and processed foods.

They are also found in a range of everyday consumer products, like nonstick cookware, food packaging, waterproof clothing, stain guards and some dental floss.

The federal government estimates that they are found in 98 per cent of Americans’ blood. The chemicals are linked to birth defects, cancer, kidney disease, liver problems and other health issues. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently found that no level of exposure to some kinds of PFAS in water is safe.

PFAS in products can be absorbed through the skin, swallowed, or breathed in as they break off from products and move through the air.

Scientists focused on umbilical cord blood because it is the lifeline between mother and baby.

The studies linked fetal exposure to higher total cholesterol and triglycerides in babies, and changes in their bodies’ bile acids, which can lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular problems later in life.

Some studies also associated cord blood exposure with disruptions to thyroid glands and microbial cells in the colon.

PFAS can remain in the body for years or even decades, and some studies link fetal exposure to effects throughout childhood and adulthood, including cognitive function, reproductive function, changes in weight, eczema and altered glucose balance.

Earlier this month it was reported that more than a third of school uniforms tested in a study were found to contain PFAS.

The study, published in the Environmental and Science Technology journal, detected the chemicals in 65 per cent of school uniforms, rain gear, snowsuits, snowshoes, mittens, bibs, hats and stroller covers tested, and at levels characterized as ‘high.’

Despite overwhelming evidence that all PFAS that have been studied are persistent in the environment and toxic, the FDA and EPA have so far resisted banning non-essential uses of the chemicals.

Related: Pollution linked to cancer cases

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