Environmental hazards: evidence for effects on child health

Donald T Wigle, Tye E Arbuckle, Mark Walker, Michael G Wade, Shiliang Liu, Daniel Krewski
Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. Part B, Critical Reviews 2007, 10 (1-2): 3-39
The human fetus, child, and adult may experience adverse health outcomes from parental or childhood exposures to environmental toxicants. The fetus and infant are especially vulnerable to toxicants that disrupt developmental processes during relatively narrow time windows. This review summarizes knowledge of associations between child health and development outcomes and environmental exposures, including lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and related polyhalogenated aromatic hydrocarbons (PHAHs), certain pesticides, environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), aeroallergens, ambient air toxicants (especially particulate matter [PM] and ozone), chlorination disinfection by-products (DBPs), sunlight, power-frequency magnetic fields, radiofrequency (RF) radiation, residential proximity to hazardous waste disposal sites, and solvents. The adverse health effects linked to such exposures include fetal death, birth defects, being small for gestational age (SGA), preterm birth, clinically overt cognitive, neurologic, and behavioral abnormalities, subtle neuropsychologic deficits, childhood cancer, asthma, other respiratory diseases, and acute poisoning. Some environmental toxicants, notably lead, ionizing radiation, ETS, and certain ambient air toxicants, produce adverse health effects at relatively low exposure levels during fetal or child developmental time windows. For the many associations supported by limited or inadequate epidemiologic evidence, major sources of uncertainty include the limited number of studies conducted on specific exposure-outcome relationships and methodologic limitations. The latter include (1) crude exposure indices, (2) limited range of exposure levels, (3) small sample sizes, and (4) limited knowledge and control of potential confounders. Important knowledge gaps include the role of preconceptual paternal exposures, a topic much less studied than maternal or childhood exposures. Large longitudinal studies beginning before or during early pregnancy are urgently needed to accurately measure and assess the relative importance of parental and childhood exposures and evaluate relatively subtle health outcomes such as neuropsychologic and other functional deficits. Large case-control studies are also needed to assess the role of environmental exposures and their interactions with genetic factors in relatively uncommon outcomes such as specific types of birth defects and childhood cancers. There is also an urgent need to accelerate development and use of biomarkers of exposure and genetic susceptibility in epidemiologic studies. This review supports the priority assigned by international agencies to relationships between child health and air quality (indoor and outdoor), lead, pesticides, water contaminants, and ETS. To adequately address such priorities, governments and agencies must strengthen environmental health research capacities and adopt policies to reduce parental and childhood exposures to proven and emerging environmental threats.

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