Asthma Risk Associated With Prenatal Exposure to Polychlorinated Biphenyls

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Researchers selected nearly 300 women who worked for La Salle Electrical Utilities Company between 1952 and 1981.
Researchers selected nearly 300 women who worked for La Salle Electrical Utilities Company between 1952 and 1981.

Women exposed prenatally to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) may have a higher risk of giving birth to children with asthma, eczema/hay fever, and frequent ear infections, according to a study published in the Journal of Asthma.

Researchers identified 288 women employed at the La Salle Electrical Utilities Company during the PCB era (1952-1981) with a total of 800 live births reported. Women were asked a series of questions to determine whether there was an association between prenatal PCB exposure and the development of asthma, eczema/hay fever, and frequent ear infections.

Study results demonstrated that women who were exposed to PCBs 1 to 4 quarters prenatally had an increased risk for their children developing asthma, eczema/hay fever, and frequent ear infections compared with women who were not exposed to PCBs or only exposed to naphthalenes (odds ratio [OR], 3.24 [95% CI, 1.30-8.09], OR, 3.29 [95% CI, 1.54-7.04], OR, 2.24 [95% CI, 1.19-4.22], respectively). 

In addition, the strongest association between exposure and diagnosis was found in women exclusively employed at La Salle Electrical Utilities Company after 1952 as this was when PCBs were introduced.

It has been noted in the literature that certain areas of the facility had higher levels of compound compared to others, but neither job category nor location were reported in this study. 

Researchers concluded that “these results support previous findings of associations of prenatal exposure to PCBs with asthma, eczema/hay fever, and frequent ear infections.”  However, further prospective studies should be conducted to confirm the findings in this study. Clinicians should be aware of this association as PCBs are still present in the environment despite being outlawed in the United States since 1979.

Reference

Parker-Lalomio M, McCann K, Piorkowski J, Freels S, Persky VW. Prenatal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and asthma, eczema/hay fever, and frequent ear infections [published online December 6, 2017]. J Asthma. doi:10.1080/02770903.2017.1396470

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