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Concentration of perfluorinated compounds and cotinine in human foetal organs, placenta, and maternal plasma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Linn Salto Mamsen, Bo A G Jönsson, Christian H Lindh, Rasmus H Olesen, Agnete Larsen, Erik Ernst, Thomas W Kelsey, Claus Yding Andersen

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Background: Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are bio-accumulative pollutants, and prenatal exposure to PFASs is believed to impact human foetal development and may have long-term adverse health effects later in life. Additionally, maternal cigarette smoking may be associated with PFAS levels. Foetal exposure has previously been estimated from umbilical cord plasma, but the actual concentration in foetal organs has never been measured.
Objectives: The concentrations of 5 PFASs and cotinine – the primary metabolite of nicotine – were measured in human foetuses, placentas, and maternal plasma to evaluate to what extent these compounds were transferred from mother to foetus and to determine if the PFAS concentrations were associated with maternal cigarette smoking.
Methods: Thirty-nine Danish women who underwent legal termination of pregnancy before gestational week 12 were included; 24 maternal blood samples were obtained together with 34 placental samples and 108 foetal organs. PFASs and cotinine were assayed by liquid chromatography/triple quadrupole mass spectrometry.
Results:  In foetal organs, the average concentrations of perfluorooctanesulphonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perfluoroundecanoic acid (PFUnDa), and perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA) were 0.6 ng/g, 0.2 ng/g, 0.1 ng/g, 0.1 ng/g, and 0.1 ng/g, respectively. A significant positive correlation was found between the exposure duration, defined as foetal age, and foetal to maternal ratio for all five PFASs and cotinine. Smokers presented 99 ng/g cotinine in plasma, 108 ng/g in placenta, and 61 ng/g in foetal organs. No correlation between the maternal cotinine concentrations and PFAS concentrations was found.
Conclusions: PFASs were transferred from mother to foetus, however, with different efficiencies. The concentrations of PFOS, PFOA, PFNA, PFUnDA, and PFDA in foetal organs were much lower than the maternal concentrations. Furthermore, a significant correlation between the exposure duration and all of the evaluated PFASs was found. The health-compromising concentrations of these substances during foetal development are unknown.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-105
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date18 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2017

    Research areas

  • Prenatal exposure, Perfluorinated compounds, Cigarette smoke, Maternal plasma, Placenta

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