Grantees discuss Superfund pollutants and reproductive health
By Sara Mishamandani
Early-life exposure to several common pollutants in food, drinking water, and household products has been associated with neurotoxic effects and other health outcomes, according to NIEHS-funded Superfund Research Program (SRP) presenters on a Fertility and Reproductive Health Working Group call Feb. 7, hosted by the Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE) and Boston University (BU) SRP.
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SRP researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), University of California, Davis (UC Davis), and BU School of Public Health presented their findings to a diverse audience, including individuals from academia, federal government, and non-profit organizations. The call is the first of many activities to emerge from this collaboration between the BU SRP and CHE. Madeleine Scammell, D.Sc., BU SRP Research Translation Core leader and co-host of the call, worked to form the partnership, to improve application of findings and consolidate resources.
“CHE does a fabulous job with research translation across the board, reaching scientists, decision-makers, and advocates,” said Scammell. “My goal is to get more NIEHS-funded SRP research out there via the infrastructure and network they have already established.”
Common contaminants and reproductive health
HSPH researcher Susan Korrick, M.D., discussed prenatal polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) and mercury exposure and subsequent neurobehavioral development. A study by Korrick and her team, with funding from SRP and other NIEHS grants, found that an increase in ADHD-associated behaviors was linked with low-level prenatal PCB and mercury exposure. However, in a seemingly contradictory finding, higher prenatal fish consumption, which can be a common source of mercury and PCB exposure, was protective against ADHD-related behaviors (read more about Korrick’s research in a 2012 SRP Research Brief) .
Korrick’s findings demonstrate the risk of PCB and mercury exposure, and the benefits of maternal fish consumption, emphasizing the need for further research to better inform dietary recommendations for pregnant women.
Ann Aschengrau, Sc.D., of the BU SRP, discussed her study reporting on an association between early-life exposure to tetrachloroethylene (PCE) from contaminated drinking water, and risky behaviors as a teen or adult. Her team found that individuals highly exposed to PCE-contaminated drinking water during gestation and childhood experienced 50 to 60 percent increases in the risk of using two or more major illicit drugs as a teen or adult.
“PCE remains a commercially ubiquitous solvent and common contaminant of drinking water,” said Aschengrau. “It is important to further determine its impact on the health of vulnerable populations.”
Understanding endocrine-disrupting mechanisms
Chemicals in many common household products amplify the activity of hormones in the body and act as endocrine disruptors, according to Bill Lasley, Ph.D., professor emeritus at UC Davis, who also presented during the call. Lasley’s group is working to identify the mechanism of action and effect of parabens, such as triclocarban, as endocrine disruptors.
Parabens are common small molecules used by cosmetic and personal care manufacturers as an antimicrobial agent.
Lasley’s group also found major differences in the ability to metabolize triclocarban, which may help to identify more vulnerable populations to health effects of the exposure.
Coordinating communication and improving collaboration
The discussion provided an outlet to share emerging scientific research with university researchers; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and NIH staff; non-governmental organizations; and the general public.
“That call was the first time I heard SRP grantees from three different programs talking specifically about their research on reproductive health,” said Scammell. “I think the working groups established by CHE may provide nice frameworks for learning about, and fostering, cross-SRP center collaboration.”
Mark Maddaloni, Ph.D., an EPA Region 2 toxicologist, also noted that the presentations were timely and relevant.
“EPA has been directing increased attention on reproductive/developmental outcomes and vulnerable life stages,” said Maddaloni. “Focusing on some of our big sticker contaminants, such as PCBs, mercury, and PCE, as well as identifying an emerging one, triclocarban, is right on target.”