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Your Environment. Your Health.

Progress Reports: Boston University: Early Life Exposure to Tetrachloroethylene (PCE)-Contaminated Drinking Water and Social Stressors may Interact to Increase the Risk of Substance Use Later in Life

Superfund Research Program

Early Life Exposure to Tetrachloroethylene (PCE)-Contaminated Drinking Water and Social Stressors may Interact to Increase the Risk of Substance Use Later in Life

Project Leader: Ann Aschengrau
Co-Investigators: Lisa Gallagher, Richard Saitz, Renee Boynton-Jarrett
Grant Number: P42ES007381
Funding Period: 2000-2020
View this project in the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT)

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Progress Reports

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Dr. Ann Aschengrau’s group is conducting a population-based retrospective cohort study to test the hypothesis that tetrachloroethylene (also known as PCE), found in the public drinking water supplies in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is associated with an increased risk of nervous system abnormalities among men and women exposed during gestation and childhood. The source of the water contamination was a vinyl liner that was applied to hundreds of miles of asbestos cement water distribution pipes in eight towns in the Cape Cod area from the late 1960s through 1980. The study population is comprised of individuals who were exposed to PCE contaminated drinking water during 1969-1983 and a comparable group of unexposed subjects. Exposed subjects include individuals with both prenatal and childhood exposure and their older siblings with only childhood exposure. Hypothesized effects include an increased prevalence of indicators and diagnoses related to vision disorders and developmental disabilities of learning and attention; impaired performance on neuropsychological and vision tests; and increased prevalence of cerebral pathology and dysfunction as seen in neuroimaging studies. Nervous system effects are anticipated to be time-dependent with greater effects among individuals who had both prenatal and childhood exposure compared with those with only childhood exposure.

Over the past year, Dr. Aschengrau and her team have made progress in data collection activities, including administration of a mail survey, conducting neuropsychological and vision tests and neuroimaging studies; geocoding reported addresses; preparing the GIS database for the exposure assessments; conducting epidemiological and statistical analyses; preparing abstracts for scientific meetings; and drafting manuscripts for publication. To date, the researchers have received and computerized 1,676 completed surveys, have geocoded approximately 50% of the reported addresses, and have conducted neuropsychological and vision tests and neuroimaging studies on 26 and 19 subjects, respectively. Preliminary analyses of the questionnaire and neuroimaging data have also been conducted.

Dr. Aschengrau’s team also published manuscripts on the relationship between PCE exposure and low birth weight and prematurity (Environmental Health Perspectives, 2008), learning disabilities (Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 2008), and prepared and submitted for publication manuscripts pregnancy loss, congenital malformations, and breast cancer. The team also published a validation study of the original Webler-Brown PCE exposure assessment methods (Environmental Health, 2008) and completed a comparative analysis and second validation study of newly enhanced PCE exposure assessment methods using EPANET, publicly available software from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Along with investigators from the Analyzing Patterns in Epidemiologic and Toxicologic Data project, Dr. Aschengrau also published manuscripts on community and individual level socioeconomic status and breast cancer risk (Environmental Health Perspectives, 2008), and a spatio-temporal analysis of breast cancer on Cape Cod (InternationaI Journal of Health Geographics, 2008), prepared for publication a spatial analysis on bladder, kidney and pancreatic cancer on Cape Cod, a spatial analysis of learning disabilities, and a multi-level non-hierachical analysis of birth weight and socioeconomic status.

The team also presented their work at the 2008 annual meeting of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology in California and at the 2008 Sino-USA Academic Forum on Public Health in Shanghai, China.  

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