Biomonitoring of human fetal exposure to environmental chemicals in early pregnancy

J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2014;17(4):205-24. doi: 10.1080/10937404.2014.898167.


The first trimester of human fetal life, a period of extremely rapid development of physiological systems, represents the most rapid growth phase in human life. Interference in the establishment of organ systems may result in abnormal development that may be manifest immediately or programmed for later abnormal function. Exposure to environmental chemicals may be affecting development at these early stages, and yet there is limited knowledge of the quantities and identities of the chemicals to which the fetus is exposed during early pregnancy. Clearly, opportunities for assessing fetal chemical exposure directly are extremely limited. Hence, this review describes indirect means of assessing fetal exposure in early pregnancy to chemicals that are considered disrupters of development. Consideration is given to such matrices as maternal hair, fingernails, urine, saliva, sweat, breast milk, amniotic fluid and blood, and fetal matrices such as cord blood, cord tissue, meconium, placenta, and fetal liver. More than 150 articles that presented data from chemical analysis of human maternal and fetal tissues and fluids were reviewed. Priority was given to articles where chemical analysis was conducted in more than one matrix. Where correlations between maternal and fetal matrices were determined, these articles were included and are highlighted, as these may provide the basis for future investigations of early fetal exposure. The determination of fetal chemical exposure, at the time of rapid human growth and development, will greatly assist regulatory agencies in risk assessments and establishment of advisories for risk management concerning environmental chemicals.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Female
  • Fetal Monitoring / methods*
  • Hazardous Substances / analysis*
  • Hazardous Substances / pharmacokinetics
  • Humans
  • Maternal Exposure*
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Placenta / metabolism
  • Pregnancy


  • Hazardous Substances