Superfund Research Program
Contaminated Water Linked to Pregnancy Complications, BU SRP Study Finds
Prenatal exposure to tetrachloroethylene (PCE) in drinking water may increase the risk of stillbirth and placental abruption, a complication in pregnancy, according to a new study led by Boston University Superfund Research Program (BU SRP) researcher Ann Aschengrau, Ph.D.
The study , published in the journal Environmental Health, compared 1,091 PCE-exposed pregnancies and 1,019 unexposed pregnancies among 1,766 women in Cape Cod, MA, where water was contaminated between the late 1960s and early 1980s by the installation of vinyl-lined asbestos cement pipes. Pipes with vinyl lining, containing PCE, were installed to correct taste and odor problems found in the previous pipes. While the PCE in the lining was expected to evaporate during the pipe installation, testing in 1980 revealed large amounts of PCE in the drinking water supplied by the pipes. PCE exposure was estimated using water-distribution system modeling software. Data on pregnancy complications were self-reported by mothers.
Of the more than 2,000 pregnancies during the study period, 9 percent were complicated by pregnancy disorders associated with placental dysfunction. Pregnancies among women with high PCE exposure had 2.38 times the risk of stillbirth and 1.35 times the risk of placental abruption, compared to unexposed pregnancies. Also, the study found an elevated risk of vaginal bleeding in pregnancies where women had PCE exposure greater than or equal to the sample median.
Lead researcher Aschengrau, professor of epidemiology at the BU School of Public Health, said the study findings support a small body of prior research indicating that PCE exposure may impact placental function and fetal growth. However, further investigation of related disorders is needed, she said.
"We need to have a better understanding of the impact of this common drinking water contaminant on all aspects of pregnancy," said Aschengrau, who has led numerous prior studies on the health effects of PCE.
Researchers used data from the Cape Cod Family Health Study, a population-based retrospective study designed to examine the influence of prenatal exposure to PCE-contaminated drinking water on multiple outcomes during pregnancy and childhood. Women were considered eligible for the parent cohort if they gave birth to at least one child between 1969 and 1983 and were living in one of eight Cape Cod towns with some contaminated pipes at the time of the child's birth.
The full study is available on the Environmental Health journal website.
SRP Researchers Receive Awards at EMGS
Superfund Research Program (SRP) staff, grantees, and students were well represented and received a number of awards at the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society (EMGS) Annual Meeting September 13-17 in Orlando, FL. The meeting provided a broad scientific forum for basic and applied researchers to share current scientific advances and integrate knowledge on detection and characterization of DNA damage from exposures in the environment, the molecular mechanisms of DNA repair processes that respond to such damage, and the mechanisms of heritable changes that occur when damage persists. The meeting also focused on the genomic and epigenomic interaction with environmental factors and application of this knowledge to assess the risks for adverse health consequences.
"The meeting was a great way to coordinate with SRP grantees and learn more about the interesting research they are doing," said NIEHS Health Scientist Administrator Michelle Heacock, Ph.D., who attended the meeting. "It also serves as an excellent forum to catch up on the most recent research in the field related to integrating environmental, genomic, and health research."
SRP grantees received several awards at the meeting. University of California, Berkeley researcher and Center Director Martyn Smith, Ph.D., won the prestigious Alexander Hollaender Award from the EMGS for his contributions to the field of environmental toxicology. Vyom Sharma, a student at the University of North Carolina SRP Center, won a 2014 EMGS Student and New Investigator Travel Award. Oregon State University SRP postdoctoral trainee Tod Harper, Ph.D., won second place in the New Investigator Poster Presentation category for his poster on the analysis of dibenzo[def,p]chrysene DNA adduct formation in a transplacental chemoprevention model.
The EMGS mission is to foster scientific research and education on the causes and mechanistic bases of DNA damage and repair, mutagenesis, heritable effects, epigenetic alterations in genome function, and their relevance to disease and to promote the application and communication of this knowledge to genetic toxicology testing, risk assessment, and regulatory policymaking to protect human health and the environment. For more on EMGS and the Annual Meeting, visit the EMGS website .
Brown SRP Staff Talk with Environment and Energy Leaders
Faculty and staff from the Brown University Superfund Research Program (SRP) presented their work to policymakers, regulators, and community groups at the Fifth Annual Rhode Island Energy and Environmental Leaders Day on Sept. 5. Brown SRP was invited by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who convened the annual meeting.
“We are here to talk about how our research focuses on toxicity of environmental contaminants and the technical challenges associated with them,” said James Rice, Ph.D., an engineering postdoctoral researcher. He was joined by Eric Suuberg, Sc.D., professor of engineering and SRP co-director, and Marcella Thompson, Ph.D., liaison to state agencies for environmental health, to represent Brown SRP.
Rice said one example is that they study vapor intrusion of chlorinated solvents — the movement of man-made contaminants from the water table beneath a home or a business up into the air inside. “We look at the engineering aspects, but we also look at the toxic effects of exposure.”
Presenting at Sen. Whitehouse’s annual event is valuable for the program, Rice added, because it provides a chance to network with policymakers and community stakeholders who might not be following research advances that are reported on in the academic literature. The team can both talk about what SRP does and get feedback about what research would matter to the stakeholders.
For more on the event and Brown SRP, visit the Brown University news page .