Maternal Plasma Perfluoroalkyl Substances and Miscarriage: A Nested Case-Control Study in the Danish National Birth Cohort

Environ Health Perspect. 2020 Apr;128(4):47007. doi: 10.1289/EHP6202. Epub 2020 Apr 22.


Background: Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are widespread persistent organic pollutants and endocrine disruptors. High doses of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) exposure can cause pregnancy loss and infant deaths in animals, but the associations between PFAS exposures and risk of miscarriage in humans are not well studied.

Methods: Using a case-control study nested within the Danish National Birth Cohort (DNBC, 1996-2002), we compared 220 pregnancies ending in miscarriage during weeks 12-22 of gestation, with 218 pregnancies resulting in live births. Levels of seven types of PFAS [PFOS, PFOA, perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS), perfluoroheptane sulfonate (PFHpS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA), and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOSA)] were measured in maternal plasma collected in early gestation (mean gestational week 8). We estimated the odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for miscarriage and each PFAS as a continuous variable or in quartiles, controlling for maternal age, parity, socio-occupational status, smoking and alcohol intake, gestational week of blood sampling, and maternal history of miscarriage. Stratification by parity and PFAS mixture analyses using weighted quantile sum (WQS) regression were also conducted.

Results: We observed a monotonic increase in odds for miscarriage associated with increasing PFOA and PFHpS levels. The ORs comparing the highest PFOA or PFHpS quartile to the lowest were 2.2 (95% CI: 1.2, 3.9) and 1.8 (95% CI: 1.0, 3.2). The ORs were also elevated for the second or third quartile of PFHxS or PFOS, but no consistent exposure-outcome pattern emerged. An interquartile range (IQR) increment in the WQS index of seven PFAS was associated with 64% higher odds for miscarriage (95% CI: 1.15, 2.34). The associations were stronger in parous women, while findings were inconsistent among nulliparous women.

Conclusion: Maternal exposures to higher levels of PFOA, PFHpS, and PFAS mixtures were associated with the risk of miscarriage and particularly among parous women. Larger replication studies among nulliparous women are needed to allay concerns about confounding by reproductive history.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Spontaneous / chemically induced
  • Abortion, Spontaneous / epidemiology*
  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Endocrine Disruptors / adverse effects*
  • Endocrine Disruptors / blood
  • Environmental Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood
  • Female
  • Fluorocarbons / adverse effects*
  • Fluorocarbons / blood
  • Humans
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Young Adult


  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Fluorocarbons