Ambient particle radioactivity and gestational diabetes: A cohort study of more than 1 million pregnant women in Massachusetts, USA

Sci Total Environ. 2020 Sep 1;733:139340. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.139340. Epub 2020 May 11.


Background: Exposure to ionizing radiation increases the risk of chronic metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Internal ionizing radiation from inhaled radioactive aerosol may contribute to the associations between fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM).

Methods: We used the Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records to study 1,061,937 pregnant women from 2001 to 2015 with a singleton pregnancy without pre-existing diabetes. Gross β activity measured by seven monitors of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's RadNet monitoring network was utilized to represent ambient particle radioactivity (PR). We obtained GDM status from birth certificates and used logistic regression analyses adjusted for socio-demographics, maternal comorbidities, PM2.5, temperature and relative humidity. We also examined effect modification by smoking habits.

Results: Ambient particle radioactivity exposure during first and second trimester of pregnancy was associated with higher odds of GDM (OR: 1.18 (95% CI 1.10 to 1.22). Controlling for PM2.5 did not substantially change the effects of PR on GDM. In women that reported being former or current smokers, the association between PR and GDM was null. In the full cohort, the overall effect of PM2.5 on GDM without adjusting for PR was not significant.

Conclusion: This is the first population-based study to examine the association between particle radioactivity and gestational diabetes mellitus - one of the most common pregnancy-related diseases with lifelong effects for the mother and the fetus. This finding has important public health policy implications because it enhances our understanding about the toxicity of PR, a modifiable risk factor, which to date, has been considered only as an indoor and occupational air quality risk.

Keywords: Air pollution; Gestational diabetes; Particle radioactivity.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2*
  • Diabetes, Gestational*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Massachusetts
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • Pregnancy
  • Radioactivity*
  • United States


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter