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Boston University

Superfund Research Program

Neurotoxic Effects of PCE Exposure During Gestation and Childhood

Project Leader: Ann Aschengrau
Grant Number: P42ES007381
Funding Period: 2000-2020

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Project Summary (2005-2012)

Tetrachloroethylene (also called perchlorethylene or PCE) is a solvent commonly used for metal degreasing, textile processing, and dry cleaning. Studies on the risk of reproductive and developmental toxicity associated with PCE exposure have shown numerous adverse effects among animals and humans. This epidemiologic study tests the hypothesis that PCE found in the distributions systems of public drinking water supplies in the Cape Cod region of Massachusetts is associated with the following reproductive and developmental outcomes: sperm and menstrual abnormalities, impaired fecundity, secondary infertility, spontaneous abortion, low birth weight, intrauterine growth retardation, pre-term delivery, congenital malformations, and developmental disorders of learning and attention. This is being accomplished by conducting a population-based retrospective cohort study including approximately 2,200 Cape Cod children and their families who were exposed to PCE-contaminated drinking water and a comparable group of 2,200 unexposed children and their families. Families are being identified using Massachusetts birth records from 1968 through 1983. During this period, tens of thousands of Cape Cod residents were exposed to PCE when it leached from the vinyl lining of asbestos cement drinking water pipes. Families in the exposed group include at least one child with prenatal and varying amounts of postnatal PCE exposure, and mothers and fathers with exposures during their reproductive years. Cohort family members are traced, and mothers are interviewed to obtain information on reproductive and developmental abnormalities, confounding variables, and residential histories. Reports of reproductive and developmental abnormalities are verified by record review. Buccal swabs are sought from mothers for later testing for susceptibility markers by molecular methods. Exposure to PCE-contaminated drinking water is being estimated using an exposure model and geographic information system (GIS) database developed for the project's current Superfund Basic Research Center. The relative risk of each adverse outcome is calculated in relation to PCE exposure while controlling for confounding variables. The impact of water use and breast feeding practices is also being taken into account.

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