Magazine article E Magazine

Womb Pollution?

Magazine article E Magazine

Womb Pollution?

Article excerpt

If you're pregnant and living in one of our many cities with unacceptable air quality, consider this: A study released last June by the Columbia University Center for Children's Environmental Health demonstrates that developing fetuses are more susceptible to DNA damage caused by combustion-related pollutants than their mothers are, despite protection by the placenta.

"These results raise serious concern," says Frederica P. Perera, director of the center and leader of the study. "Fetal susceptibility to DNA damage from air pollution, including motor vehicle emissions and secondhand smoke, has important implications for cancer risk and developmental problems. And it underscores the importance of reducing levels of air pollution."

The study, which began in 1998 in New York City, examined 256 nonsmoking African-American and Latina women and their newborns. Researchers sampled blood from the mothers and umbilical cords to evaluate the presence of two biomarkers--one associated with increased cancer risk, the other a measure of exposure to combustion-related pollutants.

"These exposures are damaging in terms of fetal growth," Perera says. "Reductions of this type have been associated in many other studies with reductions in cognitive development, learning and health."

Separate studies have shown that the placenta protects the fetus by reducing exposure to one-tenth of the mother's exposure. Despite such protection, the recent study showed similar levels of DNA damage between mothers and newborns. Levels of cotinine, which measures tobacco smoke exposure, were higher in newborns than in mothers.

"Women know they should not be smoking while pregnant, but they should also avoid secondhand smoke," Perera says. Reducing exposure to secondhand smoke can reduce the prevalence of these biomarkers, but it's not the only necessary measure. …

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