PFAS, Pregnancy, and Public Health: Experts Weigh In

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Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were originally created for their durability and non-stick properties and therefore are used in many consumer products and firefighting foam. We now know that PFAS are hazardous to human health, and last year, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) uncovered evidence that PFAS, or substances that break down into PFAS, are being used in shale gas development. This increases the risk of PFAS contamination in regions of shale gas development.

​Moderated by Ned Ketyer, MD, EHP’s Medical Advisor, the evening will begin with a brief overview of what is known about the use of PFAS in shale gas development and potential routes of exposure.

​Two guest experts, Blair Johnson Wylie, MD, MPH, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard University, and Jamie DeWitt, Ph.D., of East Carolina University, will join the discussion to present on the risk of PFAS exposure during pregnancy, and the impact of PFAS on health and the immune system, respectively.

​Attendees will gain an understanding of possible sources of PFAS exposure and the associated health risks which will allow you to recognize exposures in your home and community.


​Dr. Wylie is Director of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and an Associate Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School (HMS). She also holds an appointment as a Visiting Scientist in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and serves as the obstetric consultant to the New England Region’s Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit Network (PEHSU).

​Dr. Wylie’s clinical practice encompasses the full range of maternal-fetal medicine including prenatal diagnosis and ultrasound, high risk obstetric consultations, caring for pregnant women hospitalized during pregnancy, and deliveries. A unique contribution that she provides to women and their families is consultation about how environmental exposures can impact the health of the pregnancy and developing fetus. These potential toxins include lead, mercury, pesticides, phenols, phthalates, and perfluorinated alkyl substances.

​Dr. Wylie’s research has focused on global maternal/child health with a particular interest in environmental exposures during pregnancy in international settings such as smoke from cooking fires or pesticides from subsistence farming. She has ongoing projects in Ghana, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and India. As recognition of her global expertise, Dr. Wylie has served on the Global Operations Advisory Group at the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and as an External Advisor to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Global Network for Women’s and Children’s Health Research. She is also a member of HMS’ Advisory Committee on Global Health, previously chaired the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine’s Global Heath Committee, and now chairs the Foundation for SMFM’s Queenan Fellowships for Global Health. She recently completed a three-year term on the Board for the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine.


​ Jamie DeWitt is a Professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology of the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University (ECU). She joined ECU in 2008 and her laboratory’s research program focuses on functional effects of environmental chemicals on the immune system and its interactions with the nervous system during development and adulthood.

​With respect to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), Dr. DeWitt has published numerous primary research articles and review articles, two book chapters, and edited a book on their toxicity. She has served as an external reviewer of PFAS documents for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. National Toxicology Program, and the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. She also was a member of the International Agency for Research on Cancer working group for the assessment of the carcinogenicity of PFOA. Her laboratory is currently assessing the immunotoxicity of emerging PFAS that are of concern in NC.


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