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Study into maternal exposure to persistent toxic substances

Friday, 20 April 2012


Researchers at ECU have investigated the level of persistent toxic substances evident in pregnant women across WA.  

The Australian Maternal Exposure to Toxic Substances (AMETS) study found that the levels of persistent toxic substances in both the environment and in the women’s blood and urine samples were generally very low, and not at levels where they could have an impact on health.

The researchers looked at the levels of these substances in the drinking water, soil and dust in the women’s homes and took blood and urine samples to measure the potential exposure to the developing baby.

The study examined 173 expectant mothers who did not smoke and had not been exposed to industrial chemicals in the workplace. Participants also completed a questionnaire on their lifestyle and activities and provided a 7 day diet diary.

The brominated flames retardants (PBDEs) concentrations were highly variable in dust samples with some very high concentrations noted however these do not appear to be influencing biological concentrations (blood) where the levels measured were still low.

Based on the current scientific knowledge, it is not clear whether there are health effects associated with the brominated flame retardants and if so, at what level of exposure health effects may occur and hence effort has been placed on reducing exposure as far as possible. Researchers at ECU are keen to investigate this further in the future.

A few of the blood samples did have elevated concentrations of nickel, copper, tin and uranium although the concentrations were not high enough to result in adverse health effects.

Concentrations of cadmium in urine were elevated in this group of women compared with similar developed countries with diet appearing to being the most significant contributor to concentrations. Work on establishing this is still underway.

Persistent toxic substances (PTS) are pollutants, including chemicals such as pesticides, dioxins, brominated flame retardants and metals that can be found in the environment from a variety of human activities. These substances are increasing in the environment and are known to have effects on our health.

The Australian Maternal Exposure to Toxic Substances (AMETS) study led by ECU was funded by the Australian Research Council.

The international partner on the project was The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program in Norway, The University of Western Australia, ChemCentre WA, The Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and The National Measurement Institute was also key partners.

Full publication of the findings is expected later in the year. For more information please see the facts sheets attached.

AMETS Summary Information

Persistant Toxic Substances information sheet 


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