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Disparities in chemical exposures among pregnant women and neonates by socioeconomic and demographic characteristics: A nontargeted approach



Exposure to environmental chemicals during pregnancy adversely affects maternal and infant health, and identifying socio-demographic differences in exposures can inform contributions to health inequities.


We recruited 294 demographically diverse pregnant participants in San Francisco from the Mission Bay/Moffit Long (MB/ML) hospitals, which serve a primarily higher income population, and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (ZSFGH), which serves a lower income population. We collected maternal and cord sera, which we screened for 2420 unique formulas and their isomers using high-resolution mass spectrometry using LC-QTOF/MS. We assessed differences in chemical abundances across socioeconomic and demographic groups using linear regression adjusting for false discovery rate.


Our participants were racially diverse (31% Latinx, 16% Asian/Pacific Islander, 5% Black, 5% other or multi-race, and 43% white). A substantial portion experienced financial strain (28%) and food insecurity (20%) during pregnancy. We observed significant abundance differences in maternal (9 chemicals) and cord sera (39 chemicals) between participants who delivered at the MB/ML hospitals versus ZSFGH. Of the 39 chemical features differentially detected in cord blood, 18 were present in pesticides, one per- or poly-fluoroalkyl substance (PFAS), 21 in plasticizers, 24 in cosmetics, and 17 in pharmaceuticals; 4 chemical features had unknown sources. A chemical feature annotated as 2,4-dichlorophenol had higher abundances among Latinx compared to white participants, those delivering at ZSFGH compared to MB/ML, those with food insecurity, and those with financial strain. Post-hoc QTOF analyses indicated the chemical feature was either 2,4-dichlorophenol or 2,5-dichlorophenol, both of which have potential endocrine-disrupting effects.


Chemical exposures differed between delivery hospitals, likely due to underlying social conditions faced by populations served. Differential exposures to 2,4-dichlorophenol or 2,5-dichlorophenol may contribute to disparities in adverse outcomes.

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