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
Over past year, Ann Aschengrau, Ph.D., and her team have made progress in the areas of project staffing; obtaining necessary approvals to conduct the study; developing a self-administered questionnaire, and obtaining data needed to conduct the PCE exposure assessments from local water companies and government organizations. Since their last progress report, Aschengrau and her team have also published manuscripts on the relationship between early life exposure to PCE and the occurrence of risky behaviors such as illicit drug use; mental illness; impaired performance on neuropsychological tests; and visual abnormalities. In addition, Aschengrau collaborated with Viera and Webster (investigators with the Analyzing Patterns in Epidemiologic and Toxicologic Data project) on SRP-generated publications describing the impact PCE and other drinking water contaminants on the risk of breast cancer. They also have collaborated on the spatial distribution of learning and developmental disabilities in Upper Cape Cod Massachusetts; and the relationship between individual- and community-level socioeconomic status and birth weight. Aschengrau also presented her research on the "Neurotoxic Effects of Early Life Exposure to Tetrachloroethylene-contaminated Drinking Water" at the NIEHS Superfund Program Webinar on "Early Life Exposures – Long-term Health Consequences" in 2012.
Findings published since the last progress report suggests that the developing fetus is vulnerable to a wide variety of long-term adverse health effects following early life exposure to PCE. These health effects also appear to be long-lasting and include an increased risk of visual abnormalities such as poor color discrimination; diminished performance on neuropsychological tests assessing visuo-spatial functioning, learning and memory, attention and mood; an increased affinity for risky behaviors including illicit drug use; and an increased risk of mental illness including post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder. The associations between early life exposure to PCE and the occurrence of risky behaviors as teenagers and adults and impaired vision during adulthood have not been previously reported. All of these findings will help provide a sound scientific basis for future risk assessments of PCE and related chemical contaminants and, ultimately, help protect pregnant women and their developing fetuses.