New European research has studied the exposure levels to 41 environmental contaminants of 1,300 pregnant women and their children in relation to their socioeconomic position.
The research, carried out by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), examined the relationship between the socioeconomic position of 1,300 pregnant women and their children, age 6-12 years, and exposure to 41 environmental contaminants, as reported in a news release. The research is part of the HELIX project and was carried out using birth cohorts from six European countries (Spain, France, Greece, Lithuania, Norway and the United Kingdom).
The researchers took urine and blood samples from the pregnant women and their children to determine mean concentrations of biomarkers of the chemical contaminants. Participants also filled out questionnaires on their education, employment and family affluence levels.
The findings, published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, showed that, compared with those of lower socioeconomic levels, pregnant women with a higher socioeconomic backgrounds had a higher risk of exposure to several chemical components, such as various per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), mercury, arsenic, several phenols and pesticides. Children from families with higher socioeconomic positions were also at higher risk of exposure to organochlorine compounds, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), mercury, arsenic and bisphenol A.
Lifestyle factors could explain the differences
Families with lower socioeconomic levels appeared to have a lower risk of exposure to chemical contaminants. A higher risk of exposure was only found in the case of cadmium in the pregnant women and lead and phthalate metabolites in the children.
According to Parisa Montazeri, ISGlobal researcher and lead author of the publication, possible explanations for the differences in pollutant concentrations seen between socioeconomic groups include differences in diet, smoking and the use of consumer products such as cosmetics. “For example, tobacco smoking explained part of the higher cadmium concentrations observed in women with lower socioeconomic levels,” the researcher notes.
“In future studies, it is important to analyze the effects on health of environmental contaminants taking into account the role of socioeconomic position,” concludes Martine Vrijheid, ISGlobal researcher and coordinator of the study