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Swedish researchers indicate that at least one per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) can increase the risk of miscarriages, further increasing concerns about the risks associated with widespread environmental contamination from the toxic chemicals, which are commonly found used in firefighting foam and other products.
A study published this month in the medical journal Scientific Reports sought to explore a possible link between PFAS exposure during early pregnancy and sporadic first trimester miscarriages. According to the findings, one PFAS in particular, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), was associated with an increased miscarriage risk.
Researchers looked at data from the Swedish SELMA pregnancy cohort, involving 78 women who suffered first trimester miscarriages and 1,449 women who had live births and served as controls. The researchers looked at the presence of eight PFAS chemicals in the women during their first trimester.
According to the findings, women who had twice as much exposure to PFOA had nearly a 50% increased risk of having a miscarriage when adjusting for smoking and other factors. No other PFAS had a miscarriage association that was clinically significant, the researchers noted.
“We have previously shown associations between early pregnancy PFAS exposures and preeclampsia, as well as lower birth rate,” the researchers determined. “Now we report an association between PFOA and miscarriage within the same cohort, which may suggest shared but unknown mechanisms.”
PFAS and Firefighter Foam Environmental Concerns
PFAS were first introduced into the manufacturing industry in the 1940’s, because of their ability to resist heat, grease, stains, and water. However, since then the chemicals have been linked to a myriad of adverse health effects including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and cancer.
The chemical substances are used to manufacture a number of products, including some firefighting foams, food packaging materials, pizza boxes, popcorn bags, fabrics, nonstick cooking pans, and other products. However, it is perhaps most known for its use in aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs) used by military and civilian firefighters.
The firefighting foam has been regularly used at military bases nationwide over the past decade during routine training and fire extinguishing exercises, and there has been renewed focus on the health risks after the chemicals have been found to contaminate many local water supplies around the training sites.
It is projected to take thousands of years for PFAS to degrade, and past studies have shown their ability to enter and stay in the environment and human body through the air, dust, food, soil, and water. Previous U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studies have shown PFAS chemicals primarily settle into the blood, kidney and liver, and could likely be detected in the blood of 98% of the U.S. population.
Chemical manufacturers now face a growing number of firefighting foam lawsuits brought by individuals nationwide, including former fire fighters diagnosed with cancer and individuals who lived near military bases or training facilities where chemicals from the toxic foam contaminated drinking water supplies.