Prenatal exposure to combustion-related air pollution may cause chromosomal abnormalities in fetal tissue, according to a study of 60 New York City newborns.
In other populations, such abnormalities have been linked to an increased risk of leukemia and other cancers, said Kirsti A. Bocskay of the department of environmental health sciences at Columbia University, New York, and her colleagues.
The investigators monitored exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)—found in emissions from vehicles, residential heating, power generation, and tobacco smoke—among nonsmoking African American and Dominican mothers in three low-income neighborhoods.
The mothers filled out questionnaires and wore air monitors for 48 hours in the third trimester. Chromosomal abnormalities were measured in umbilical cord blood at delivery.
The investigators found 4.7 chromosome abnormalities per 1,000 white blood cells in newborns from mothers with low exposure to PAHs and 7.2 abnormalities per 1,000 white blood cells in newborns from mothers with high exposure to PAHs.
The study finds a significant association between prenatal exposure to airborne carcinogenic PAHs and stable aberrations in cord blood at the relatively low environmental concentrations in New York, the researchers said (Cancer Epidemiol. Biomarkers Prev. 2005;14:506-11).