Scientists detect 55 chemicals never before reported in people: 42 “mystery chemicals” whose sources are unknown

Chemist working in the laboratory

Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco have detected 109 chemicals in a study of pregnant women, including 55 chemicals never before reported in people and 42 “mystery chemicals” whose sources and uses are unknown.

The chemicals are most likely coming from consumer products or other industrial sources. They were found in both the blood of pregnant women and their newborn children, suggesting that they are traveling through the mother’s placenta.

The study was published on March 16, 2021 in Environmental science and technology.

“These chemicals have probably been in people for quite some time, but our technology is now helping us identify more of them,” said Tracey J. Woodruff, PhD, professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at UCSF.

Woodruff, a former scientist with the US Environmental Protection Agency, directs the Program for Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE) and the Center for Environmental Research and Translation for Health (EaRTH), both at UCSF.

“It is alarming that we continue to see certain chemicals travel from pregnant women to their children, which means that these chemicals can be with us for generations,” he said.

The science team used high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) to identify human-made chemicals in people.

But, while these chemicals can be tentatively identified using chemical libraries, they must be confirmed by comparing them to the pure chemicals produced by manufacturers that are known as “analytical standards.” And manufacturers don’t always make them available.

Recently, for example, chemical manufacturer Solvay stopped providing access to a chemical standard for a perfluorooctanoic acid (PFAS) that has emerged as a replacement for the removed PFAS compounds. Researchers have been using this chemical standard to assess the presence and toxicity of replacement PFAS.

“These new technologies hold promise in allowing us to identify more chemicals in people, but our study findings also make clear that chemical manufacturers must provide analytical standards so that we can confirm the presence of chemicals and assess their toxicity.” said the co-director. author Dimitri Panagopoulos Abrahamsson, PhD, UCSF PRHE Postdoctoral Fellow.

The 109 chemicals that the researchers found in the blood samples of pregnant women and their newborns are found in many different types of products. For example, 40 are used as plasticizers, 28 in cosmetics, 25 in consumer products, 29 as pharmaceuticals, 23 as pesticides, three as flame retardants, and seven are PFAS compounds, which are used in carpets, upholstery and other applications. The researchers say there may be other uses for all of these chemicals as well.

The researchers report that 55 of the 109 chemicals they tentatively identified appear not to have been previously reported in people:

  • 1 is used as a pesticide (bis (2,2,6,6-tetramethylpiperidini-4-y) decanedioate)
  • 2 are PFAS (methyl perfluoroundecanoate, most likely used in the manufacture of non-stick cookware and waterproof fabrics; 2-perfluorodecyl ethanoic acid)
  • 10 are used as plasticizers (e.g. Sumilizer GA 80 – used in food packaging, paper plates, small appliances)
  • 2 are used in cosmetics
  • 4 are high volume production chemicals (HPV)
  • 37 have little or no information on their sources or uses (eg, 1- (1-acetyl-2,2,6,6-tetramethylpiperidin-4-yl) -3-dodecylpyrrolidine-2,5-dione, used in the manufacture of fragrances and paints (this chemical is so little known that there is currently no acronym) and (2R0-7-hydroxy-8- (2-hydroxyethyl) -5-methoxy-2-, 3-dihydrochromen-4 -one (Acronym: LL -D-253alpha), for which there is limited or no information on its uses or sources.

“It is very concerning that we cannot identify the uses or sources of so many of these chemicals,” Woodruff said. “The EPA must do a better job of requiring the chemical industry to standardize its reporting of chemical compounds and uses. And they should use their authority to make sure we have adequate information to assess potential health hazards and remove hazardous chemicals from the market. ”

Reference: “Detection of Suspicion, Prioritization, and Confirmation of Environmental Chemicals in San Francisco Mother-Newborn Pairs” by Aolin Wang, Dimitri Panagopoulos Abrahamsson, Ting Jiang, Miaomiao Wang, Rachel Morello-Frosch, June-Soo Park, Marina Sirota and Tracey J. Woodruff, March 16, 2021“ Environmental science and technology.
DOI: 10.1021 / acs.est.0c05984

Authors: Joining Woodruff and Panagopoulos Abrahamsson in the study were Aolin Wang and Marina Sirota, from UCSF; Ting Jiang, Miamiao Wang, and June-Soo Park from the California Environmental Protection Agency; and Rachel Morello-Frosch of UC Berkeley.

Funding: This study was funded by NIH / NIEHS grant numbers P30- 870 ES030284, UG3OD023272, UH3OD023272, P01ES022841, 871 R01ES027051, and by US EPA grant number 872 RD83543301.

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