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Exposure to certain chemicals commonly found in food, firefighting foam and other products during pregnancy may increase the risk of giving birth to a child who experiences a liver injury, according to the findings of a new study.
Researchers with the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California indicate that prenatal exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is associated with biomarkers of liver injury among children, and alterations to their serum metabolome. The findings were published on August 1 in the medical journal Hepatology.
PFASs chemicals are most commonly known for use in firefighting foam, which has been widely used since the 1960s during training exercises and in response to certain fuel based fires. However, exposure to the chemicals has been linked to reports of cancer among firefighters and local water contamination in areas around military bases and other locations where the fire foam was regularly used during training exercises.
The chemicals are also found in food packaging materials, pizza boxes, popcorn bags, fabrics, nonstick cooking pans, and other products, but are projected to take a long time to break down, potentially leading to long-term buildup risks.
In this latest study, researchers looked at data from 1,105 mothers and their children, who had a median age of 8.2 years, who participated in the European Human Early-Life Exopsome (HELIX) cohort. They measured the concentrations of various PFAS compounds in the mothers’ blood and assessed concentrations of certain liver enzymes in child serum which point to signs of liver injury.
According to the findings, higher exposure to PFAS during pregnancy was linked to higher liver enzyme levels in children. The findings suggest that prenatal PFAS exposure was linked to a 56% increased risk of liver injury.
“Developmental exposure to PFAS can contribute to pediatric liver injury,” the researchers warned.
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 exposure to PFAS 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.
In June 2019, a federal investigation found that PFAS chemicals are commonly found in numerous food products, including meats, seafood, chocolate, cake and other products. However, the FDA released a statement indicating that the levels found do not raise health concerns, based on the best available science.
A number of chemical manufacturers face a growing number of PFAS firefighter foam lawsuits in federal courts nationwide, which are centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina for pretrial proceedings. Plaintiffs say exposure to the chemicals have led to cases of cancer among military and civilian firefighters, and among those who live in communities whose water supplies have been contaminated.