Exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) among pregnant women may contribute to adverse birth outcomes

Pregnant women and their fetuses represent susceptible populations to environmental contaminants. Exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) among pregnant women may contribute to adverse birth outcomes such as preterm birth. This study assessed longitudinal urinary PAH metabolite concentrations over two time points in pregnancy cohorts in Boston (N = 200) and Puerto Rico (N = 50) to better understand exposure distributions throughout pregnancy and how they relate to demographic factors. Urine samples were analyzed for 8 different PAH metabolites.

Our trainees and researchers Amber Cathey, Kelly Ferguson, Thomas McElrath, David Cantonwine, Gerry Pace, Akram Alshawabkeh,  José Cordero, & John Meeker explored this issue in their recent publication, “Distribution and predictors of urinary polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon metabolites in two pregnancy cohort studies,” published in the Environmental Pollution Journal.

Concentrations of 2-NAP, 1-PYR, and 4-PHE were higher in Puerto Rico, while all other metabolites were present in higher concentrations in Boston. Correlations of measurements within individuals were weak to moderate in Puerto Rico. PAH metabolite concentrations were significantly higher among younger, heavier (except 1-NAP and 9-PHE), and less educated individuals in Boston only. Consistent significant associations between PAH concentrations and measured covariates were not found in Puerto Rico. These results suggest that potentially important differences in PAH exposure exist between these two populations. Additionally, these results indicate that multiple urinary measurements are required to accurately assess PAH exposure throughout pregnancy.