Researchers found that exposure to certain chemical pollutants (even before birth) can reduce lung functions in children.
This study was co-directed by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and the French Institute for Health and Biomedical Research (INSERM) and was published in the journal “The Lancet Planetary Health” in February 2019.
The study was conducted through the data of 1,033 mother-child pairs in six countries. The participating children had undergone a test related to the functions of the lungs at the age of 6 and 12 years.
The motive of the study was to know how 85 distinct prenatal pollutant exposures and 125 different pollutant exposures in early childhood affect the lung functions in children.
Along with chemicals, these exposures also included smoking, housing and neighborhood conditions accompanied by the indoor and outdoor environments that surrounded the children.
The research targeted only the individual chemicals or toxins and not the entire batch of exposures a child has to go through. To measure the results of this study, a technique called spirometry was used. Spirometry measures the forcefulness through which a person exhales and is used to measure respiratory problems like asthma.
The study found that prenatal exposure of chemicals came in 2 types known as PFAS (for polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances). PFAS are present in household products like food packages, water repellents, stain-resistant fabrics, nonstick cookware, etc. These could lead to lowering down the functions of the lungs.
Along with this, other factors that had the same results as early childhood exposure to chemicals included crowded housing, schools in dense neighborhoods and chemicals found in plastics and cosmetics.
The chemicals including ethyl-paraben and phthalate metabolites reach kids’ bodies through food and to womb through the placenta. Also, it was found that exposure to phthalates (often found in perfumes, soaps, and shampoos) also caused lung damage.
In addition to the above-mentioned chemicals, parabens, found in cosmetics, and copper also cause similar ill effects to the lungs.
Through this study, in at least 9 out of 10 women, more than two-thirds of the chemical exposure biomarkers were found.
Martine Vrijheid, ISGlobal researcher and co-coordinator of the study said, “This is the first study that applies an exposome approach to identify associations between pre- and childhood exposure to a range of important environmental factors and impairment of lung function, thereby representing a new paradigm in environmental health research.”
She added, “These findings have important implications for public health. Preventive measures to reduce exposure to the chemical substances identified, including a stricter regulation and the labelling of consumer products to better inform the public, could help prevent lung function impairment in childhood and benefit health in the long-term.”
Exposure to these chemicals could cause permanent health disorders in addition to respiratory problems and ill lung functions. Hence, there is a dire need to keep a check on the spread of these chemicals.