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

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

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Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
Bakar Computational Health Sciences Institute, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
Clinical Toxicology and Environmental Biomonitoring Lab, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
Department of Pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
School of Public Health and Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA
Philip R Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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