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Mothers' exposure to air pollutants linked to chromosome damage in babies

A new study of 60 newborns in New York City reveals that exposure of expectant mothers to combustion-related urban air pollution may alter the structure of babies' chromosomes while in the womb. While previous experiments have linked such genetic alterations to an increased risk of leukemia and other cancers, much larger studies would be required to determine the precise increase in risk as these children reach adulthood.

The air pollutants considered in this study include emissions from cars, trucks, bus engines, residential heating, power generation and tobacco smoking. These pollutants can cross the placenta and reach the fetus.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and other private foundations. The research was conducted by scientists from the Columbia University Center for Children's Environmental Health. Study results will be published in the February issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, and are available online at http://cebp.aacrjournals.org.

"This is the first study to show that environmental exposures to specific combustion pollutants during pregnancy can result in chromosomal abnormalities in fetal tissues," said Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., the director of NIEHS. "These findings may lead to new approaches for the prevention of certain cancers."

Researchers monitored exposure to airborne pollutants, known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), among non-smoking African-American and Dominican mothers residing in three low-income neighborhoods of New York City -- Harlem, Washington Heights and the South Bronx.

"Although the study was conducted in Manhattan neighborhoods, exhaust pollutants are prevalent in all urban areas, and therefore the study results are relevant to populations in other urban areas," said Dr. Frederica P. Perera
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Contact: John Peterson
peterso4@niehs.nih.gov
919-541-7860
NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
15-Feb-2005


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