Environmental Exposures

The Center conducts prospective research studies of pregnant women and their children in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Our largest study is in New York City, tracking low-income African-American and Latino children from Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx since birth through early adolescence. These neighborhoods bear a disproportionate share of the city’s pollution sources. These communities are home to diesel bus depots, major commercial roadways, and deteriorated public housing, which is often infested with pests. Unfortunately, these are conditions are all too common in many urban environments.

There is growing evidence, much of it from our own research, that exposure to pollution sources during the sensitive fetal and early childhood periods can result in multiple adverse health effects. Our team of more than three dozen scientific investigators, trained in fields including environmental exposure assessment, perinatal epidemiology, pediatric oncology, pulmonology, and biostatistics, are studying the effects of early-life exposures to identify which are most harmful and in need of regulation.

  • Air Pollution

    Pollutants in the air we breathe can be bad for our health. Babies in the womb and young children are especially vulnerable as their bodies are growing and developing. Urban air in particular is more polluted than in surrounding regions.

  • Bisphenol-A (BPA)

    Bisphenol-A (BPA) is one of the highest volume chemicals produced worldwide. It is used to harden plastics, keep bacteria from growing in foods, and prevent cans from rusting. It is found in products we use every day: baby bottles, water bottles, food storage containers, the lining of canned goods and cash register receipts.

  • Lead

    Lead poisoning remains the most common environmental hazard for children throughout the United States, affecting approximately 240,000 children ages six years and younger. Lead is a metal found in the environment that can be neurotoxic and carcinogenic to humans. It is inhaled or ingested and carried throughout the body in the bloodstream. All organ systems are susceptible to damage. Pregnant women, babies, and children under six years of age are especially vulnerable. During pregnancy, lead poisoning can result in spontaneous abortions, stillbirth, and low birth weight.

  • Mercury

    Mercury is a metal that is found in air, water, and soil. Mercury does not break down in the environment and is toxic to humans, building up in our bodies over long periods of time. Mercury exists naturally in several forms. It can build to very high levels in certain types of fish that people eat.

  • Mold

    Exposure to molds can be harmful to your health — especially in children, whose defense systems are only partially formed. Our bodies come in contact with mold in three ways: by breathing mold spores that become airborne; by eating mold in food; and by touching mold on surfaces. Over 200 different types of indoor molds have been identified. They grow best in moist, wet environments, and tend to spread rapidly on almost any surface — food, tile, paint, dust, sheetrock, plaster, wood, and fabric.

  • Pest and Pet Allergens

    Exposure to pest allergens from cockroaches, dust mites, and rodents can cause serious allergic and asthmatic reactions. Exposure to these allergens at a young age can increase babies’ and children’s risk of developing asthma and other respiratory symptoms.

  • Pesticides

    Pesticides are chemicals that avert or destroy unwanted pests such as insects, rodents, and fungi. Therefore, it is not surprising that they can harm humans, too. Prenatal and early-life exposure to chemical-based pesticides can permanently change the way biological systems function.

  • Phthalates

    Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to soften plastics in many consumer products, including children’s toys, plastic containers, and personal care products.

  • Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs)

    Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are widely used flame-retardant compounds that are applied to a broad array of textiles and consumer products, including mattresses, upholstery, carpeting, building materials, and electronic equipment. Because the compounds are additive rather than chemically bound to the products, they can be released into the environment. They are persistent organic chemicals and can bioaccumulate in the body.

  • Secondhand Smoke

    It has been well documented that exposure to secondhand smoke is extremely unhealthful. Secondhand smoke gets into the air when tobacco products are burned and contains thousands of toxic chemicals.