The challenge of preventing environmentally related disease in young children: community-based research in New York City.

Rates of developmental and respiratory diseases are disproportionately high in underserved, minority populations such as those in New York City’s Washington Heights, Harlem, and the South Bronx. Blacks and Latinos in these neighborhoods represent high risk groups for asthma, adverse birth outcomes, impaired development, and some types of cancer. The Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health in Washington Heights uses molecular epidemiologic methods to study the health effects of urban indoor and outdoor air pollutants on children, prenatally and postnatally, in a cohort of over 500 African-American and Dominican (originally from the Dominican Republic) mothers and newborns. Extensive data are collected to determine exposures to particulate matter < 2.5 microm in aerodynamic diameter (PM(2.5)), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), diesel exhaust particulate (DEP), nitrogen oxide, nonpersistent pesticides, home allergens (dust mite, mouse, cockroach), environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), and lead and other metals. Biomarkers, air sampling, and clinical assessments are used to study the effects of these exposures on children’s increased risk for allergic sensitization, asthma and other respiratory disorders, impairment of neurocognitive and behavioral development, and potential cancer risk. The center conducts its research and community education in collaboration with 10 community-based health and environmental advocacy organizations. This unique academic-community partnership helps to guide the center’s research so that it is most relevant to the context of the low-income, minority neighborhoods in which the cohort resides, and information is delivered back to these communities in meaningful ways. In turn, communities become better equipped to relay environmental health concerns to policy makers. In this paper we describe the center’s research and its academic-community partnership and present some preliminary findings.

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