Inner-city minority populations are high-risk groups for adverse birth outcomes and also more likely to be exposed to environmental contaminants, including environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), benzo[a]pyrene B[a]P, other ambient polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (global PAHs), and residential pesticides. The Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) is conducting a prospective cohort study of 700 northern Manhattan pregnant women and newborns to examine the effects of prenatal exposure to these common toxicants on fetal growth, early neurodevelopment, and respiratory health. This paper summarizes results of three published studies demonstrating the effects of prenatal ETS, PAH, and pesticides on birth outcomes and/or neurocognitive development [Perera FP, Rauh V, Whyatt RM, Tsai WY, Bernert JT, Tu YH, et al. Molecular evidence of an interaction between prenatal environment exposures on birth outcomes in a multiethnic population. Environ Health Perspect 2004;12:630–62; Rauh VA, Whyatt RM, Garfinkel R, Andrews H, Hoepner L, Reyes A, et al. Developmental effects of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and material hardship among inner-city children. Neurotoxicol Teratol 2004;26:373–85; Whyatt RM, Rauh V, Barr DB, Camann DE, Andrews HF, Garfinkel R, et al. Prenatal insecticide exposures, birth weight and length among an urban minority cohort. Environ Health Perspect, in press].
To evaluate the effects of prenatal exposure to ETS, PAHs, and pesticides, researchers analyzed questionnaire data, cord blood plasma (including biomarkers of ETS and pesticide exposure), and B[a]P-DNA adducts (a molecular dosimeter of PAHs). Self-reported ETS was associated with decreased head circumference (P = 0.04), and there was a significant interaction between ETS and adducts such that combined exposure had a significant multiplicative effect on birth weight (P = 0.04) and head circumference (P = 0.01) after adjusting for confounders.
A second analysis examined the neurotoxic effects of prenatal ETS exposure and postpartum material hardship (unmet basic needs in the areas of food, housing, and clothing) on 2-year cognitive development. Both exposures depressed cognitive development (P < 0.05), and there was a significant interaction such that children with exposure to both ETS and material hardship exhibited the greatest cognitive deficit (7.1 points).
A third analysis found that cord chlorpyrifos, and a combined measure of cord chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and propoxur-metabolite, were inversely associated with birth weight and/or length (P < 0.05).
These results underscore the importance of policies that reduce exposure to ETS, air pollution, and pesticides with potentially adverse effects on fetal growth and child neurodevelopment.