Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers



Read a detailed synopsis of the study

New York Times
17 January 2003

Pollution Linked to Low Birth Weights in African-Americans

Pollutants in the air in Upper Manhattan and the South Bronx have been linked to lower birth weights and smaller skulls in African-American babies, according to a long-term study on the unusually high rate of childhood asthma in those areas.

In a paper to be published next month in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found that African-American women exposed to high levels of everyday pollutants in automobile exhaust, cigarette smoke and incinerators in the third trimester of pregnancy tended to have smaller babies with smaller than average skulls.

Dr. Frederica Perera, director of the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health, said the study's findings were particularly troubling because low birth weight and smaller skulls had been found to correspond with poor health and mental problems later in life.

"A number of studies have reported that reduction in head circumference at birth or during the first year of life correlates with lower I.Q. as well as poorer cognitive function," Dr. Perera said.

The researchers gave small pollution monitors to 263 Dominican and African-American women in their third trimester who lived in Upper Manhattan and the South Bronx. The women wore the monitors on their backs for 48 hours, and researchers then analyzed the pollutants collected in the monitors' filter. After the babies were born, researchers checked the levels of pollutants and pesticides in their blood and took body measurements.

Among African-American babies exposed to high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, researchers saw a reduction in both birth weight and skull circumference, Dr. Perera said. No statistically significant problems were found among the babies born to Dominican women exposed to high levels of the pollutants, she said, but babies in both groups had lower birth weights when the pesticide chlorpyrifos, a chemical commonly used in schools and public housing in New York City, was found in their blood.

The study, which began in 1998, will follow children from before birth until their fifth birthdays and possibly beyond, Dr. Perera said. Researchers will measure the children's overall health, breathing, cognitive abilities and school performance to try to determine what role, if any, urban pollutants play in the health and mental problems that plague children in cities.





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