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Daily News Blog

15
Apr

Exposure to PFAS—the “Forever” chemical—During Pregnancy Results an Increase in Heart and Metabolic Problems Among Adolescence

(Beyond Pesticides, April 15, 2021) Gestational (during pregnancy) and childhood exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) increase cardiometabolic risk, or the risk of heart diseases and metabolic disorders, later in life, according to a Brown University study published in Environment International. Past studies associate exposure to chemical pollutants with increased susceptibility to adverse health effects during critical fetal and childhood developmental periods. Some of these health effects are cardiometabolic risk factors, including obesity, insulin issues, abnormal blood pressure, that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) and metabolic disorders (e.g., type 2 diabetes). PFAS are of particular concern as these endocrine-disrupting chemicals are common in non-stick cookware, cleaning/personal care products, food packaging, and other consumer products. They are now being found in pesticide products. Because of their ubiquitous use in many products, studies report that PFAS compounds are detectable in infants, children, and pregnant women. Furthermore, pregnant women can readily transfer compounds to the developing fetus through the placenta.

Cardiovascular disease and diabetes are among the leading causes of death globally. Additionally, heart conditions are one leading cause of disability in the U.S., as research demonstrates environmental pollutant exposure can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including stroke, heart attack, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, and cardiac arrest. Therefore, it is essential to mitigate harmful chemical exposure to safeguard human health, especially during critical developmental periods. Researchers note, “ [F]uture epidemiolocal studies are needed to investigate the impact of other PFAS and PFAS mixture on cardiometabolic risk and investigate the biological mechanisms underlying these associations.”

Researchers collected blood serum from 221 mother-child pairs to understand the effects PFAS exposure has on children. The collection took place during pregnancy, at birth, and ages three through 12 years. A blood serum analysis examined samples for the presence of four PFAS concentrations (perfluorooctanoate [PFOA], perfluorooctane sulfonate [PFOS], perfluorononanoate [PFNA], and perfluorohexane sulfonate [PFHxS]). Lastly, researchers compared PFAS exposure levels to cardiometabolic risk factors among, including insulin resistance, impaired glucose absorption, high blood pressure, and visceral (abdominal) fat and inflammation.

The study results demonstrate that high exposure to a combination of all four PFAS compounds during pregnancy worsens cardiometabolic health among adolescents at age 12 years. Youth groups with higher PFOA exposure rates during pregnancy and PFOA and PFHxS exposure at birth/during infancy results in elevated adverse cardiometabolic risks.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a group of over 9,000 human-made chemicals present in various consumer products that people use every day. Although some PFAS compound manufacturing has ceased, these chemicals last forever in the environment as their chemical structure makes them resistant to breakdown. Chemical residues are persistent in food and drinking water, with over 6 million U.S. residents regularly encountering drinking water with PFAS levels above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health advisory of 70 ng/L. Therefore, PFAS are detectable in almost all of the U.S. population—disproportionately afflicting people of color communities—and have implications for human health. EPA links these chemical compounds to adverse health effects. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies PFAS as possible carcinogens based on epidemiological studies identifying instances of kidney, ovarian, testicular, prostate, and thyroid cancer, as well and non-Hodgkin lymphoma and childhood leukemia. Moreover, PFAS are anatomically similar to fatty acids and may impair fatty acid metabolism and lipid synthesis in the liver, resulting in endocrine (hormone) disruption. Some studies even demonstrate PFAS reduces the efficacy of vaccines. Although the presence of PFAS in consumer products is a concern for human health, these substances contaminate some already toxic pesticide products. Neither the manufacturer nor regulators have a good understanding of how chemical contamination occurs, and contamination may increase adverse health outcomes. 

Independent research by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) finds that widely used insecticide Anvil 10+10 contains high levels of PFAS from contamination. Although EPA does not regulate PFAS in pesticide formulas, EPA still lists these substances in the inert ingredient database. Many companies have patents on file for pesticide formulations containing PFAS. However, product labels do not require disclosure of contaminants fundamental for pesticide products through the manufacturing or packaging process. Contamination of a toxic product with other harmful chemicals is glaringly problematic for public health and the environment. Mixtures of various chemicals can induce synergism that may increase pesticide toxicity or result in changes to its characteristics, like penetrative abilities. Therefore, there may be an underestimation of toxicity effects on human, animal, and environmental health.

The study results demonstrate that early life exposure to PFAS has implications for future heart and metabolic health. Echoing past studies, exposure to PFAS in utero may increase obesity risk, insulin and leptin levels, and glucose intolerance more than adult exposure. Therefore, gestation represents a window of increased vulnerability to PFAS exposure. Furthermore, this study employs both traditional and novel cardiometabolic risk scores that better predict subsequent risks. For instance, researchers measured risk factor scores for adiponectin to leptin ratio indicating insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. These risk factor scores are good predictors of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes risk or mortality. The researchers suggest continuous measurement of cardiometabolic risk score can provide opportunities for disease prevention before onset during adulthood. Since EPA fails to regulate these toxic substances, the depth and scope of PFAS contamination may be difficult to assess. Although new “short-chain” PFAS compounds are replacing older, more toxic “long-chain/C8” compounds, some research suggests these new compounds are just as toxic. Researchers, including study co-author Joseph Braun, Ph.D., conclude, “Future epidemiologic studies investigating the health impacts of early life PFAS exposure should consider using continuous cardiometabolic risk summary scores to assess cardiometabolic risk and confirm our findings… [These findings can] give policymakers information so they can prevent exposure at the population level and set health-based regulatory guidelines that protect people’s health because, at the end of the day, that’s what’s really important — protecting people’s health.”

Ubiquitous environmental contaminants like PFAS have severe consequences, especially on the health of vulnerable individuals. There is a consensus among pediatricians that pregnant mothers and young children should avoid pesticide exposure during critical periods of development. Various pesticide products act similarly to PFAS, and individuals can encounter these substances simultaneously, resulting in more severe health outcomes. Therefore, advocates urge that policies enforce stricter pesticide regulations and increase research on the long-term impacts of pesticide exposure. Beyond Pesticides tracks the most recent studies related to pesticide exposure through our Pesticide Induced Diseases Database (PIDD). This database supports the clear need for strategic action to shift away from pesticide dependency. For more information on the multiple harms that pesticides can cause, see PIDD pages on Birth/Fetal EffectsLearning/Developmental DisordersEndocrine Disruption, CancerBody Burdens, and other diseases. To learn more about how the lack of adequate pesticide regulations can adversely affect human and environmental health, see Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticides and You article “Regulatory Failures Mount, Threatening Health and Safety.”

Many states are issuing regulatory limits on various PFAS in drinking water, groundwater, and soil. However, EPA must require complete product testing and disclosure of ingredients for proper PFAS regulation. Furthermore, the agency must eliminate the need for toxic pesticides by promoting organic and ecological pest management practices. Solutions like buyinggrowing, and supporting organic can help eliminate the extensive use of pesticides in the environment. Organic land management and regenerative organic agriculture eliminate the need for toxic agricultural pesticides. Furthermore, given the wide availability of non-pesticidal alternative strategies, families and agricultural industry workers alike can apply these methods to promote a safe and healthy environment, especially among chemically vulnerable individuals. For more information on how organic is the right choice for both consumers, and the farmworkers who grow our food, see Beyond Pesticides webpage, Health Benefits of Organic Agriculture

Help Beyond Pesticides educate and build the movement that will bring long-needed protection to humans, animals, and the entire environment by attending the National Pesticide Forum this spring. Cultivating Healthy Communities will bring together expert scientists, farmers, policymakers, and activists to discuss strategies to eliminate harms from toxic chemical use in favor of non-toxic organic solutions. It begins with a pre-conference session on Monday, May 24, and continues every Tuesday beginning May 25, June 1, June 8, and ending June 15, 2021. Registration is open today and available through the webpage on this link. It starts with US.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Brown University Press Release, Environment International

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