Research and Key Findings in Poland

The Mothers & Newborns Study in Poland follows 500 pregnant women and their children through prospective research studies, examining how multiple common urban pollutants are contributing to rising rates of asthma, developmental delays, behavioral disorders, and cancer risk. The study takes place in Krakow, a city with high levels of combustion-generated pollutants from coal burning. Air pollution is measured by the levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the environment, which are released during the incomplete burning of fossil fuels, including coal.

Our results have shown that pregnant women in Krakow are exposed to 10-fold higher levels of airborne PAHs than women in New York City. As the cohort matures, we are continuing to collect and analyze data to determine the effects of these early-life exposures on children’s health.

This research is made possible through a partnership between the Center and a research team from Jagellonian University in Krakow.

Some key findings to date:

Asthma

  • Prenatal exposure to PAHs and environmental tobacco smoke significantly increases the burden of respiratory disease in the first months and years of life.

Growth & Development

  • Prenatal exposure to PAHs was significantly associated with reduced fetal growth, birth weight, birth length, and birth head circumference, as well as impaired cognitive development at age one.
  • Pre-pregnancy dietary vitamin A intake and fish consumption during pregnancy may mitigate adverse birth outcomes associated with prenatal pollutant exposure.
  • Prenatal PAH exposure may impair children’s cognitive development at age 5, with potential implications for school performance. These results are consistent with a recent finding in a parallel cohort of children in New York City (NYC), who were also tested at age 5.
  • Prenatal PAH exposure is also linked to adverse behavioral effects from ages 6 to 8.
  • Children with higher prenatal exposures to lead are twice as likely as children exposed to lower levels to have developmental delays (with regards to visual recognition memory) at six months of age.

Cancer Risk & Genetic Susceptibility

  • A high rate of detectable pro-carcinogenic DNA damage (as measured by PAH-DNA adducts) in maternal and newborn cord blood was found in the Polish cohort. PAH-DNA adducts have been linked to increased cancer risk in previous studies.
  • The marked inter-individual variations among children exposed prenatally to the same level of toxicants indicates the potential importance of gene-environment interactions in health outcomes. We have identified significant interactions between genetic variance and PAHs on these outcomes, suggesting that some individuals are at greater risk from environment toxicants and carcinogens. These variations were seen in both our NYC and Krakow subjects.