Relationships among polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon-DNA adducts, proximity to the World Trade Center, and effects on fetal growth

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are toxic pollutants released by the World Trade Center (WTC) fires and various urban combustion sources. Benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) is a representative member of the class of PAHs. PAH–DNA adducts, or BaP–DNA adducts as their proxy, provide a measure of chemical-specific genetic damage that has been associated with increased risk of adverse birth outcomes and cancer. To learn whether PAHs from the WTC disaster increased levels of genetic damage in pregnant women and their newborns, we analyzed BaP–DNA adducts in maternal (n = 170) and umbilical cord blood (n = 203) obtained at delivery from nonsmoking women who were pregnant on 11 September 2001 and were enrolled at delivery at three downtown Manhattan hospitals. The mean adduct levels in cord and maternal blood were highest among newborns and mothers who resided within 1 mi of the WTC site during the month after 11 September, intermediate among those who worked but did not live within this area, and lowest in those who neither worked nor lived within 1 mi (reference group). Among newborns of mothers living within 1 mi of the WTC site during this period, levels of cord blood adducts were inversely correlated with linear distance from the WTC site (p = 0.02). To learn whether PAHs from the WTC disaster may have affected birth outcomes, we analyzed the relationship between these outcomes and DNA adducts in umbilical cord blood, excluding preterm births to reduce variability. There were no independent fetal growth effects of either PAH–DNA adducts or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), but adducts in combination with in utero exposure to ETS were associated with decreased fetal growth. Specifically, a doubling of adducts among ETS-exposed subjects corresponded to an estimated average 276-g (8%) reduction in birth weight (p = 0.03) and a 1.3-cm (3%) reduction in head circumference (p = 0.04). The findings suggest that exposure to elevated levels of PAHs, indicated by PAH–DNA adducts in cord blood, may have contributed to reduced fetal growth in women exposed to the WTC event.

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