Seminar by Former PROTECT Trainee Kelly Ferguson Highlighted by NIEHS

PROTECT Project 1 collaborator and former trainee, Kelly Ferguson, Ph.D., was featured in Environmental Factor published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) for a seminar she gave in early October at Duke University. During this seminar, Ferguson discussed some of her research which has revealed that exposure to phthalates, a group of chemicals found in many household items, can negatively impact pregnancy outcomes. The study discussed by Ferguson was designed in collaboration with PROTECT Project 1 leader John Meeker and PROTECT Scientific Advisory Committee Member Thomas McElrath, and it indicated that women with the highest levels of phthalate exposure during pregnancy were up to five times more likely to give birth prematurely than pregnant women with the lowest levels of exposure.

One of the biggest barriers to remedying this issue, Ferguson pointed out during the seminar, is the overwhelming prevalence of phthalates in commonly used goods. Phthalates are included in personal care products ranging from perfumes to deodorant and in soft plastics such as vinyl flooring, shower curtains, and rain gear. Phthalates can even be found in food and beverages that have been in contact with plastic packaging. According to Ferguson, while phthalates can have damaging health effects at any point during ones lifespan, these chemicals can be particularly harmful during pregnancy because they are able cross the placental barrier and reach the vulnerable, developing baby.

Ferguson plans on continuing her work in collaboration with PROTECT on the relationship between environmental contaminants and pregnancy outcomes. She’s hoping to examine more closely the effect chemical exposures can have on the development of the placenta and on the development of infants before and after birth. She also plans to do more research on the ways in which environmental chemicals and psychological stressors in pregnant mothers may interact to cause pregnancy complications.

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Kelly Ferguson in Copenhagen