Exposure levels of environmental endocrine disruptors in mother-newborn pairs in China and their placental transfer characteristics

PLoS One. 2013 May 7;8(5):e62526. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062526. Print 2013.


There is a growing concern about the potential health effects of exposure to various environmental chemicals during pregnancy and infancy. The placenta is expected to be an effective barrier protecting the developing embryo against some endocrine disruptors (EDs) circulating in maternal blood. The current study was designed to assess in utero exposure levels of non-persistent organic pollutants (non-POPs) and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in Chinese newborns and potential role of placenta barrier against fetal exposure to these commonly-used environmental endocrine disruptors. A total of 230 newborn-mother pairs were enrolled during 2010-2011, 201 pairs of which were recruited from Shanghai, and the other 29 pairs came from Wenzhou. Maternal blood, cord blood, and meconium specimens were collected in the subject population from Shanghai and analyzed for non-POPs, including mono-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (MEHP), octylphenol (OP) and 4-nonylphenol (4-NP). A total of 19 polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) congeners, which belong to POPs, were detected in maternal and cord blood specimens from the other 29 pairs. Fetal-maternal ratios (F-M ratios) and regression coefficients were presented to assess potential function of placenta on barricading the mother/fetal transfer of these EDs. Concentrations of the detected non-POPs in cord blood samples were approximately 20% lower than those in maternal blood, and regression coefficients of which were all over 0.80. In contrast, PBDEs levels in cord blood samples were significantly higher than those in maternal blood. MEHP levels in meconium were much higher than those in cord blood samples, and highly correlated. Therefore, observations demonstrated that the placental barrier slightly decreased the fetal exposure to most non-POPs, while PBDEs seemed to be totally transferred across the placenta and finally reached the fetus. For in utero exposure assessment of Di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), MEHP level in meconium may be a useful biomarker.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • China
  • Endocrine Disruptors / blood*
  • Endocrine Disruptors / pharmacokinetics*
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood*
  • Environmental Pollutants / pharmacokinetics*
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure*
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange*
  • Meconium / chemistry
  • Mothers*
  • Pregnancy
  • Regression Analysis


  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Environmental Pollutants

Grant support

This research was financially supported by the Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant 81072263, to Y.Z.) and Shanghai Natural Science Foundation (Grant 10ZR1402000, to Y.Z.). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.