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Reproductive and Child Health

Environmental exposures occurring during the preconception, perinatal, and early life time windows can effect health in the near term as well as later in life. To better understand these relationships, the Carignan lab works with longitudinal preconception and birth cohorts to quantify exposures to environmental agents and determine associations with reproductive, perinatal and child health outcomes.

Notable findings include:

  • Women with higher exposures to organophosphate flame retardants are less likely to become pregnant or have a live birth (Carignan et al. EHP 2017).
  • Breastfeeding is protective against infant exposure to arsenic, even when drinking water concentrations are relatively low (Carignan et al. EHP 2015).
  • Infant rice cereal can markedly increase arsenic exposure among US infants relative to breast milk and formula (Carignan et al. 2016).

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a class of chemicals that companies add to a wide variety of consumer products to make them non-stick, waterproof, and stain-resistant. There are currently more than 4,700 different PFAS chemicals on the market, making them among the most ubiquitous synthetic chemicals in the world.

While their strong chemical bonds make them very effective at repelling water and oil even at high temperatures, these same characteristics also make PFAS extremely persistent, meaning they don’t break down in the environment. Scientists and health professionals are concerned about the public’s exposure to PFAS because the chemicals have been linked with many health problems, including thyroid disease, cancer, high cholesterol, obesity, effects on the immune system, increased susceptibility to breast cancer, and others.

Approximately 98 percent of Americans have PFAS in their bodies, and the chemicals remain in the body for years.

That’s why the Carignan lab and many others are working hard to better understand these contaminants —how people are exposed and how they impact human health — in order to find solutions to protect the public, especially vulnerable populations, from these hazardous chemicals.

Notable findings and projects include:

Drinking water supplies for over 6 million U.S. residents have contained elevated concentrations of PFOS and PFOA (Hu et al. EST Letters 2016 ).

For this community engaged project, the Carignan lab is investigating PFAS immunotoxicity among children exposed to drinking water that contained elevated concentrations of PFAS from historic use of firefighting foam (AFFF). This collaboration also developed The PFAS Exchange as an innovative online resource for people in impacted communities, their governments, and medical providers.

The Carignan lab is leading the Michigan effort for the interdisciplinary research project, PFAS UNITEDD (U.S. National Investigation of Transport and Exposure from Drinking Water and Diet). The project aims to quantify exposure to legacy and overlooked PFAS among communities impacted by PFAS drinking water contamination to inform future interventions and remediation.

The Carignan lab contributed to the Michigan application for the Multi-Site Health Study funded by the CDC/ATSDR to look at the relationship between PFAS exposure through drinking water and health outcomes.

Reducing Gymnast Exposures to Flame Retardants

During her pre- and postdoctoral research, Dr. Carignan discovered that competitive gymnasts can have high exposures to flame retardants due to the use of these chemicals in the foam of gymnastics training equipment, particularly the foam pit (Carignan et al. 2013, 2016). Some flame retardants have been phased out or banned due to health concerns including thyroid hormone disruption, impacts on neurodevelopment, and decreased fertility. She founded the Gymnast Flame Retardant Collaborative to engage with the gymnastics community and assembled an interdisciplinary research team needed to address this issue.

Notable findings include:

  • Use of flame retardants in the foam pits and landing mats of gymnastics training facilities was common for decades due to preferential purchasing to address fire safety concerns (Carignan et al. 2016).
  • Fire safety can be maintained without the use of flame retardants (Carignan et al. 2019, See Supplemental Material for Foam Pit Fire Safety Guidance and Checklist)
  • Replacing a foam pit using flame retardant free foam reduced gymnast exposure up to five fold (Carignan et al. 2019)
  • Other interventions expected to reduce exposure to flame retardants in gyms include preferential purchasing of flame retardant free landing mats and washing hands (with soap and water or a wipe) after practice.