Maternal occupational exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and congenital heart defects among offspring in the national birth defects prevention study

Birth Defects Res A Clin Mol Teratol. 2012 Nov;94(11):875-81. doi: 10.1002/bdra.23071. Epub 2012 Sep 3.


Background: There is evidence in experimental model systems that exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) results in congenital heart defects (CHDs); however, to our knowledge, this relationship has not been examined in humans. Therefore, we conducted a case-control study assessing the association between estimated maternal occupational exposure to PAHs and CHDs in offspring.

Methods: Data on CHD cases and control infants were obtained from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study for the period of 1997 to 2002. Exposure to PAHs was assigned by industrial hygienist consensus, based on self-reported maternal occupational histories from 1 month before conception through the third month of pregnancy. Logistic regression was used to evaluate the association between maternal occupational PAH exposure and specific CHD phenotypic subtypes among offspring.

Results: The prevalence of occupational PAH exposure was 4.0% in CHD case mothers (76/1907) and 3.6% in control mothers (104/2853). After adjusting for maternal age, race or ethnicity, education, smoking, folic acid supplementation, and study center, exposure was not associated with conotruncal defects (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 0.98; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.58-1.67), septal defects (AOR, 1.28; 95% CI, 0.86-1.90), or with any isolated CHD subtype.

Conclusions: Our findings do not support an association between potential maternal occupational exposure to PAHs and various CHDs in a large, population-based study. For CHD phenotypic subtypes in which modest nonsignificant associations were observed, future investigations could be improved by studying populations with a higher prevalence of PAH exposure and by incorporating information on maternal and fetal genotypes related to PAH metabolism. Birth Defects Research (Part A), 2012.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / epidemiology*
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / etiology
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / etiology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / prevention & control
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons