Maternal occupational exposure to chemical substances and the risk of infants small-for-gestational-age

A Seidler, E Raum, B Arabin, W Hellenbrand, U Walter, F W Schwartz
American Journal of Industrial Medicine 1999, 36 (1): 213-22

BACKGROUND: The association between maternal occupational exposure to specific chemical substances (organic solvents, carbon tetrachloride, herbicides, chlorophenols, polychlorinated biphenyls, aromatic amines, lead and lead compounds, mercury and mercury compounds) and birth of small-for-gestational-age (SGA) infants was evaluated using data from a prospective cohort study of 3,946 pregnant women in West Germany from 1987 to 1988.

METHODS: Occupational, medical, and psychosocial information was gathered through a questionnaire from pregnant women who were recruited between 15 and 28 gestational weeks. Exposure to chemical substances at the current workplace was assessed by a job-exposure matrix constructed by Pannett in 1985 and weighted for the number of working hours per week. Women not working at the time of the interview, women with multiple births, and women with stillbirths were excluded from analysis. Data were analyzed using dichotomous and polytomous logistic regression to control for age, smoking status, alcohol consumption, body mass index, and number of former births.

RESULTS: The results of the dichotomous logistic regression analysis suggest that leather work might be associated with the birth of infants small-for-gestational-age through exposure to chlorophenols (P = 0.02) and aromatic amines (P = 0.05). In the polytomous logistic regression analysis, only the association between exposure to mercury and growth retardation reached statistical significance (P = 0.02); however, the power of the study is limited. Further adjustment for income, shift work, and heavy physical work had no substantial effect on the results.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that maternal exposure to specific chemicals at work may be a risk factor for the birth of SGA infants.

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