July 24 (UPI) -- Scientists have developed a way to screen several hundred chemicals at one time in blood, offering promise in better assessing chemical exposures in pregnant woman.
Scanning 696 chemicals in a study, researchers at the University of California San Francisco found an average of 56 environmental organic acids in the blood of pregnant participants in San Francisco. Their findings were published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Six of those confirmed acids "may be of high priority for future biomonitoring among pregnant women, the researchers wrote.
"As we suspected, more chemicals are present in pregnant women than previously identified, some of which may be hazardous to the developing fetus and to adults," study author Dr. Tracey Woodruff, director of the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at UCSF, said in a press release. "This also helps us prioritize chemicals for further study and prevention
A technique known as high-resolution mass spectrometry identified chemicals by their molecular weight from blood samples. They were able to scan a larger number of chemicals at once than previous methods of about a dozen at a time.
"Screening for chemicals in a person is like finding needles in a haystack -- there are thousands of chemicals in blood that come from different sources, so we need an efficient method to find those that matter," study first author Dr. Aolin Wang, a postdoctoral scholar in the UCSF Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, said.
The new method screens for environmental organic acids -- compounds with at least one ionizable proton. They are widely used in pesticides and consumer products and others have chemical structures similar to hormones, including bisphenol-A, methylparaben and triclosan.
By causing endocrine disruption, they are dangerous to pregnant women and their developing fetuses. These chemicals can be found in contaminated food and water, or even by breathing contaminated air and dust.
The researchers compiled a chemical database of EOAs from a variety of publicly available sources.
They examined blood collected from pregnant women at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, which serves mostly low-income women of color who do not have health insurance; and UCSF Mission Bay Medical Center, which serves an economically and ethnically diverse population.
"Our findings indicate numerous chemical exposures across the populations of pregnant women studied," study author Dr. Rachel Morello-Frosh, a professor of environmental science, policy and management at University of California Berkeley. "Additionally, low-income women and women of color often face a disproportionate burden of social and environmental stressors that are linked to poor health outcomes."
Using a more refined method to confirm a subset of chemicals, they found six ones that had not been previously documented in pregnant women's blood -- 2,4-Dinitrophenol and pyrocatechol, which may cause genetic defects, harm fertility or damage the fetus, or have carcinogenic effects.
And 2,4-Di-tert-butylphenol, a widely detected estrogenic compound, is used in food-related plastic products, as well as plastic pipes and water bottles.
"Our success with the current suspect screening approach indicates that this method can provide new insights regarding human exposures to potentially dangerous chemicals," Woodruff said. "Our results raise concerns about pregnant women's chemical exposures and can be used to inform evidence-based approaches to protect human health."