A Suspect Screening Method for Characterizing Multiple Chemical Exposures among a Demographically Diverse Population of Pregnant Women in San Francisco

Environ Health Perspect. 2018 Jul 24;126(7):077009. doi: 10.1289/EHP2920. eCollection 2018 Jul.


Background: In utero exposure to environmental chemicals can adversely impact pregnancy outcomes and childhood health, but minimal biomonitoring data exist on the majority of chemicals used in commerce.

Objectives: We aimed to profile exposure to multiple environmental organic acids (EOAs) and identify novel chemicals that have not been previously biomonitored in a diverse population of pregnant women.

Methods: We used liquid chromatography-quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry (LC-QTOF/MS) to perform a suspect screen for 696 EOAs, (e.g., phenols and phthalate metabolites) on the maternal serum collected at delivery from 75 pregnant women delivering at two large San Francisco Hospitals. We examined demographic differences in peak areas and detection frequency (DF) of suspect EOAs using a Kruskal-Wallis Rank Sum test or Fisher's exact test. We confirmed selected suspects by comparison with their respective reference standards.

Results: We detected, on average, 56 [standard deviation (SD)]: 8) suspect EOAs in each sample (range: 32-73). Twelve suspect EOAs with DF≥60 were matched to 21 candidate compounds in our EOA database, two-thirds of which are novel chemicals. We found demographic differences in DF for 13 suspect EOAs and confirmed the presence of 6 priority novel chemicals: 2,4-Di-tert-butylphenol, Pyrocatechol, 2,4-Dinitrophenol, 3,5-Di-tert-butylsalicylic acid, 4-Hydroxycoumarin, and 2'-Hydroxyacetophenone (or 3'-Hydroxyacetophenone). The first two are high-production-volume chemicals in the United States.

Conclusion: Suspect screening in human biomonitoring provides a viable method to characterize a broad spectrum of environmental chemicals to prioritize for targeted method development and quantification. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP2920.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acids / analysis*
  • Adult
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Middle Aged
  • Organic Chemicals / analysis*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnant Women
  • San Francisco
  • Young Adult


  • Acids
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Organic Chemicals