Air Pollution Exposure Assessment for Epidemiologic Studies of Pregnant Women and Children: Lessons Learned from the Centers for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research

By Gilliland, Frank; Avol, Ed et al. | Environmental Health Perspectives, October 2005 | Go to article overview

Air Pollution Exposure Assessment for Epidemiologic Studies of Pregnant Women and Children: Lessons Learned from the Centers for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research


Gilliland, Frank, Avol, Ed, Kinney, Patrick, Jerrett, Michael, Dvonch, Timothy, Lurmann, Frederick, Buckley, Timothy, Breysse, Patrick, Keeler, Gerald, de Villiers, Tracy, McConnell, Rob, Environmental Health Perspectives


The National Children's Study is considering a wide spectrum of airborne pollutants that are hypothesized to potentially influence pregnancy outcomes, neurodevelopment, asthma, atopy, immune development, obesity, and pubertal development. In this article we summarize six applicable exposure assessment lessons learned from the Centers for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research that may enhance the National Children's Study: a) Selecting individual study subjects with a wide range of pollution exposure profiles maximizes spatial-scale exposure contrasts for key pollutants of study interest, b) In studies with large sample sizes, long duration, and diverse outcomes and exposures, exposure assessment efforts should rely on modeling to provide estimates for the entire cohort, supported by subject-derived questionnaire data. c) Assessment of some exposures of interest requires individual measurements of exposures using snapshots of personal and microenvironmental exposures over short periods and/or in selected microenvironments, d) Understanding issues of spatial-temporal correlations of air pollutants, the surrogacy of specific pollutants for components of the complex mixture, and the exposure misclassification inherent in exposure estimates is critical in analysis and interpretation, e) "Usual" temporal, spatial, and physical patterns of activity can be used as modifiers of the exposure/outcome relationships, f) Biomarkers of exposure are useful for evaluation of specific exposures that have multiple routes of exposure. If these lessons are applied, the National Children's Study offers a unique opportunity to assess the adverse effects of air pollution on interrelated health outcomes during the critical early life period. Key words: air pollution, airborne, ambient, Centers for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research, Children's Centers, cohort study, direct measurement, exposure assessment, modeling, National Children's Study, personal measurement.

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A major study design challenge for the National Children's Study will be to maximize and characterize exposure contrasts in its cohort of 100,000 pregnant women residing in multiple locations across the United States, thereby enhancing the power to estimate exposure-response relationships from childhood into adulthood. Multiple outcomes are of interest, including pregnancy outcomes, neurodevelopment, asthma, obesity, and pubertal development. Exposures to a wide spectrum of environmental pollutants are being considered for investigation in the study, including air pollutants of indoor and outdoor origin (National Children's Study 2004).

Given the pollutants and health endpoints currently under consideration, exposure assessment for the variable periods during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood will be needed. For asthma-related outcomes, daily, monthly, yearly, and multiyear exposure metrics with varying time integration periods may be required. For pregnancy outcomes, monthly estimates as well as estimates for critical periods may be needed. For neurodevelopment, monthly, yearly, and multiyear metrics may be most relevant. For these and other outcomes, time-integrated average levels may capture the effects of chronic exposure during specific periods, but more discrete and intense sampling frequency or duration may be needed to better assess specific exposure-response relationships.

The purpose of this article is to summarize exposure assessment lessons learned in the Centers for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research (hereafter Children's Centers) for air pollutants and health outcomes of National Children's Study interest. Exposures to allergens and bioaerosols are considered elsewhere in this mini-monograph. Many of the Children's Centers have active research programs involving the assessment of air pollution in epidemiologic studies (Table 1). On the basis of experience of investigators from these centers, we provide recommendations for air pollution exposure assessment consideration in the study design, population selection, exposure data collection, analysis, and interpretation of findings of the National Children's Study. …

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