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NIEHS-funded Study Links Air Pollution to Chromosome Damage in Newborns

March 2005

The latest results in the multi-year study of mothers and children in New York City shows a link between prenatal exposure to air pollution and chromosome damage in newborns.

The results are part of the "Mothers & Children Study in New York City" conducted by researchers at the Columbia University Center for Children's Environmental Health. Researchers monitored expectant mothers' exposure to airborne pollutants like vehicle emissions, residential heating, power generation and tobacco smoke, which can cross the placenta and affect the fetus. The study included 60 babies born to non-smoking African-American and Dominican mothers in three poor neighborhoods in New York City: Harlem, Washington Heights and the South Bronx.

Exposure was assessed with the use of questionnaires and portable air monitors worn by the mothers during the last trimester of their pregnancies. Researchers used the data collected to calculate the concentration of air pollution to which each expectant mom was exposed. Chromosomal abnormalities in umbilical cord blood were measured using a "chromosome painting" technique that enables researchers to observe the chromosomal structural changes.

Frederica Perera, director of the Columbia center and senior author of the study, said that although the study was conducted in Manhattan, exhaust is prevalent in all urban areas. Therefore, she said, the results are relevant in other urban areas as well. Results were published in the February issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention.

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