Maternal Health in the US: Should PFAS be a Concern?

Updated: May 22

Written by Tess Amore

The maternal health crisis in the United States has been a rising concern for many policy makers, doctors, and mothers in the past decade. Of all developed nations, the US has one of the highest maternal mortality rates. According to a recent maternal morbidity and mortality report from the White House, “every year, people in the United States die of pregnancy-related causes at more than double the rate among nations with similar levels of income”(2021). Furthermore, these fatal implications are even more prominent for Black and Native women and those living in rural areas. While the number of these reported maternal deaths have steadily decreased around the world, the United States has seen them almost double since 1987.

Much of the current policy surrounding maternal health focuses on racism in the healthcare system, access to prenatal care, and inclusive health coverage lasting through the entirety of postpartum, but one new concern that needs to be addressed is the dangerous effects of PFAS chemicals.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, otherwise known as PFAS, are chemicals composed of long carbon chains, each bonded to fluorine atoms and a functional group (Buck et al., 2011). This bond is one of the strongest that exists in nature which means that these chemicals are extremely long lasting giving them the nickname “forever chemicals.” These forever chemicals were first synthesized in the 1930s and were eventually used in non-stick coatings starting in the 1940s (Muller & Yingling, 2017). Today, they can be found in thousands of products we use in our daily lives.

Because they have water resistant, stain resistant, and nonstick properties, PFAS are used in the production of items including fire fighting equipment, food packaging, furniture, and kitchenware. Although commercially convenient, research has shown that PFAS have dangerous implications for human health. Long term exposure and contamination can result in immunosuppression, reduced response to va