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Your Environment. Your Health.

Naphthalene Exposure in Children

Manuela A. Orjuela, M.D., Rachel L. Miller, M.D., Frederica P. Perera, Dr.P.H.
Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University
NIEHS Grants R01ES012732, P01ES009600, R01ES013163, P50ES015905, R01ES008977, P30ES009089


NIEHS grantees report that children exposed to high levels of naphthalene have a greater risk of chromosomal abnormalities, which have been associated with increased cancer risk in adults. Naphthalene is a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon found in automotive exhaust, tobacco smoke, and household mothball fumes.


The researchers followed 113 5-year-olds living in New York City and assessed the children’s exposure to naphthalene, by measuring its metabolites, 1- and 2-naphthol, in urine. They also measured chromosomal abnormalities in the children’s white blood cells.


The researchers found chromosomal abnormalities in 30 children, of which 11 had a type of abnormality known as a translocation. With every doubling of 1- and 2-naphthol levels, translocations were 1.55 and 1.92 times more likely, respectively. The researchers say that translocations can remain years after exposure, even though the body repairs some chromosomal damage. The researchers are now following some of the children through fourth grade, to better understand the long-term effects of naphthalene exposure.


Citation: Orjuela MA, Liu X, Miller RL, Warburton D, Tang D, Jobanputra V, Hoepner L, Suen IH, Diaz-Carreño S, Li Z, Sjodin A, Perera F. 2012. Urinary napthol metabolites and chromosomal aberrations in 5-year old children. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 21(7):1191-1202.

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