Molecular evidence of an interaction between prenatal environmental exposures and birth outcomes in a multiethnic population

Environ Health Perspect. 2004 Apr;112(5):626-30. doi: 10.1289/ehp.6617.


Inner-city, minority populations are high-risk groups for adverse birth outcomes and also are more likely to be exposed to environmental contaminants, including environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), benzo[a]pyrene (BaP), and other polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in urban air. In a sample of nonsmoking African-American and Dominican women, we evaluated the effects on birth outcomes of prenatal exposure to ETS, using questionnaire data and plasma cotinine as a biomarker of exposure, and environmental PAHs using BaP-DNA adducts as a molecular dosimeter. We previously reported that among African Americans, high prenatal exposure to PAHs estimated by prenatal personal air monitoring was associated with lower birth weight (p = 0.003) and smaller head circumference (p = 0.01) after adjusting for potential confounders. In the present analysis, self-reported ETS was associated with decreased head circumference (p = 0.04). BaP-DNA adducts were not correlated with ETS or dietary PAHs. There was no main effect of BaP-DNA adducts on birth outcomes. However, there was a significant interaction between the two pollutants such that the combined exposure to high ETS and high adducts had a significant multiplicative effect on birth weight (p = 0.04) and head circumference (p = 0.01) after adjusting for ethnicity, sex of newborns, maternal body mass index, dietary PAHs, and gestational age. This study provides evidence that combined exposure to environmental pollutants at levels currently encountered in New York City adversely affects fetal development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Benzo(a)pyrene
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Birth Weight / drug effects
  • Black or African American
  • Body Constitution
  • Carcinogens, Environmental / analysis
  • Cotinine / blood
  • DNA Adducts / blood
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development / drug effects*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • New York City
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / analysis
  • Pregnancy
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / analysis
  • Urban Health


  • Biomarkers
  • Carcinogens, Environmental
  • DNA Adducts
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution
  • benzo(a)pyrene-DNA adduct
  • Benzo(a)pyrene
  • Cotinine