North Bay fires’ effects on pregnancy, babies studied

Researchers at UC Davis’ Environmental Health Sciences Center are looking for new mothers and pregnant women who experienced the North Bay fires to serve as subjects for a new study on the potential effects of exposure to toxic smoke and ash on expectant mothers and their infants.

Participants in the Bio-Specimen Assessment of Fire Effects Study, or B-SAFE, must have lived or worked in areas affected by the October 2017 fires — including Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, Napa, Solano, Nevada or Yuba counties.

They also must be willing to provide test samples of their blood, hair and breast milk, their babies’ saliva and the placenta and umbilical cord blood of women who have not yet given birth. Scientists from Davis will make home visits to collect the samples and will compensate participants for their time.

The study, one of several post-fire research projects underway at the health sciences center, seeks to yield information about the implications of wildfires for the health of expectant mothers and their babies, but particularly where the fires burn in developed areas, destroying thousands of homes and everything in them: solvents, glues, metals, formaldehydes and halogens used in construction, as well as cleaning supplies, electronics, paints, insecticides and other substances stored inside.

“Very little is known about how wildfires impact the health of women and their babies who were exposed during pregnancy,” said principal investigator Rebecca J. Schmidt, assistant professor of public health sciences at UC Davis. “Our goal is to gather mothers with fire- affected pregnancies who want to help us understand what they were exposed to and the biological effects of those exposures on them and their children.”

Researchers are primarily trying to examine exposure levels and will disclose any concerning results to participants for follow-up with their own health care providers, said Karen Finney, a campus spokeswoman.

But the scientists hope to obtain additional funding to study health outcomes in children, if appropriate. Children whose mothers are involved in this study may be eligible, Finney said.

Researchers at the environmental health center also are studying health effects from the fires, ash contents and smoke.

Participants in the B-SAFE study must either be currently pregnant and due to deliver no later than Oct. 31 of this year, or be a new mom who was pregnant during October’s fires.

They also must be 18 and able to understand and respond to written questions in English, though the study is to be expanded to include Spanish speakers.

The B-SAFE study is being funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.