Emory-led research first to detect ‘forever chemicals’ in newborns

An Emory University-led study into the exposures of pregnant women to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals,” is believed to be the first to detect PFAS in newborns and show that exposure to these chemicals during pregnancy increases the likelihood of preterm or early term births.

The study, which was recently published in Nature Communications, studied blood samples from 267 newborns between 2016 and 2020 and discovered three important findings:

  • Babies exposed to PFAS in large amounts are more likely to be born early. Specifically, mothers with higher blood levels of PFAS in pregnancy are 1.5-times more likely to have a baby that is born three weeks before their due date or earlier (these babies are called ‘preterm’) and 1-2 weeks before their due date (these babies are called ‘early term’).
  • For the first time, the study found that measurable levels of PFAS chemicals were present in blood samples from newborns shortly after birth. Because PFAS are human-made chemicals, this means the babies were exposed to PFAS while they were still in utero.
  • Specific biological signals detectable in the newborn babies’ blood upon birth show PFAS chemicals may have disrupted the balance of certain processes in the newborns, such as the growth of tissues and the functioning of hormones. In the future, detection of these biological signals in maternal blood during pregnancy may indicate an increased risk for preterm birth, which would allow for possible interventions and improved outcomes. Learn more about JPB Fellow Stephanie Eick’s research.