News and Research

A Pediatrician's Role in Children's Exposure to Environmental Pollutants

October 2020- Dr. Elizabeth Neary, MD, MS, FAAP, Clinical Adjunct Asst Professor in Pediatrics at UWSMPH, Co-President of Wisconsin Environmental Health Network, and Wisconsin Representative of our Region 5 PEHSU, gave a lecture entitled “Children’s Exposure to Environmental Pollutants: What’s a Pediatrician’s Role?” You can find the lecture here at minute 57.

COVID rates among children in U.S. increasing

September 2020- COVID rates are quickly increasing among children in the U.S. Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID are increasing at a faster rate among children and teenagers compared to the general public. Black and Latinx children are more likely to be hospitalized. The data set looks at cases, hospitalizations, and deaths that occurred from May 21- August 20. The number of infected children has doubled since AAP published its recommendations that schools should reopen. Children ages 10-19 make up the majority of cases. People under 20 years old are still thought to be about half as susceptible to contracting the virus compared to those older than 20.

Global lead exposure to children

August 2020- UNICEF and Pure Earth published a report on children’s exposure to lead. According to the report, around 1 in 3 children – up to 800 million globally – has blood lead levels at or above 5 micrograms per decilitre (µg/dL), a level that the World Health Organization and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stated requires global and regional interventions.

Air pollution, heat exposure, and birth outcomes

babe and mum

June 2020- A systematic review evaluating air pollution and heat exposure and associations with preterm birth, low birth weight, and stillbirth in the United States found that mothers with asthma and black mothers were at an increased risk for adverse birth outcomes when exposed to PM2.5 and ozone. Sixty-eight articles from 2017 – April 2019, which studied over 32 million births, were included in the review.

Increased risk for holoproscencephaly and maternal exposure to pesticides

insecticide spray

June 2020- Researchers found an increased risk for holoprosencephaly (HPE) and maternal exposure to select pesticides. Four windows of exposure were considered: preconception, early, mid and late pregnancy. An association was found between risk of HPE and pesticide exposure including insecticides and acaricides for pets and personal insect repellents during pregnancy. They also found an association with exposure to household pest products during preconception or pregnancy. No associations were found with occupational exposures to pesticides. Researchers accounted for estimate household, occupational, and environmental pesticide exposures through a questionnaire. Cases were identified through the National Human Genome Research Institute’s ongoing clinical studies of HPE.

PFAS associated with risk for miscarriage during 2nd trimester

April 2020- Researchers have found maternal exposure to multiple types of PFAS is associated with risk for miscarriage during the second trimester. Serum from women in the Danish National Birth Cohort was used to analyze PFAS exposure during pregnacy; all women in the cohort had detectable levels of multiple types of PFAS. Researchers found a nearly 80% – 120% increased risk for miscarriage when comparing the two most common PFAS compounds and those in the cohort with the lowest PFAS levels. The association was stronger in women who previously gave birth.

Phthalates and Autistic traits

February 2020- A recent study has found an association between young boys who were exposed in the womb to certain phthalates were more likely to have traits of autism at ages 3 and 4. Researchers enrolled 2,001 women >18 years during their first trimester and collected urine samples to test for 11 phthalate metabolites. Six-hundred-and-ten children completed assessments from the Social Responsive Scale-II. Higher gestational concentrations of two phthalate metabolites were associated with higher scores of autistic traits in boys, but not girls. Women who had taken recommended doses of supplementary folic acid during their first trimester were less likely to have boys who later exhibited autism traits.

Talcum powder and ovarian cancer

January 2020- A study published in JAMA found no significant association between the use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer. The study used data from over 250,000 women from four cohorts with participants self-reporting on powder usage. Researchers found that 2,168 women developed ovarian cancer, and women who had ever used powder had an 8% increased risk of ovarian cancer compared to those who never used it- not a statistically significant increased. The lifetime risk of getting ovarian cancer is 1.3%.

BLLs of women in childbearing age

January 2020- A study has found that the blood lead levels (BLLs) of women of childbearing age has substantially decreased in the past 40 years. The authors used NHANES data to look at BLLs of women that were between the ages of 15-49 from 1976-2016. In the first NHANES to measure BLLs (1976-1980), 98.3% of the study population had BLLs ≥5μg/dL compared to less than 1% from 2011-2016, and the mean BLL has declined from 10.37 to 0.61μg/dL from 1976 to 2016. Despite this decrease, at least half a million women in the U.S. are being exposed to lead levels that may harm fetuses or breastfeeding infants.

Chemical and non-chemical stressors on children's health

October 2019- A recent publication looking at the joint effect of chemical and non-chemical stressors on children’s health found that more often than not, the combination of chemical and non-chemical stressors was more strongly associated with adverse health outcomes than the individual measures. Researchers examined the literature and reviewed 12 studies that looked at phthalates, pesticides, and PCBs as well as environmental indices co-occurring with social, mental, or psychological stressors. Authors noted that there is a need to investigate mechanisms and relationships on how chemical and non-chemical stressors may affect health outcomes.

Pediatric ER visits and PM

September 2019- A study has found that an increase in exposure to particulate matter 2.5 was associated with an increase in pediatric ER visits for a mental health problem days after exposure. The association was stronger between air pollution and emergency room visits for children living in poorer, high poverty neighborhoods. The study used data from 2011-2015 from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Commentary on lead screening update from the US Preventive Services Task Force

August 2019-

BPA substitutes may contribute to weight gain and obesity


July 2019- A recently published study from NYU School of Medicine found that two substitute chemicals for BPA- BPS and BPF- may contribute to childhood weight gain and obesity. Researched analyzed data from NHANES which measured urinary BPS, BPF, and BPA in over 1,800 children and adolescents. Over 87% of participants had detectable concentrations of BPS and 55.2% had detectable concentrations of BPF. Researchers also found that as BPS concentration increased, so did the likelihood the child was obese. Additionally, they found that BPF was significantly associated with being overweight and with abdominal obesity. Bishpenol chemicals, which mimic the hormone estrogen and can affect the endocrine system, typically enter the body through leaching out of food and beverage containers and can also be absorbed through the skin. BPS and BPF have been increasingly used as BPA has declined due to public awareness and demand.

Prenatal and early life exposures to ambient air pollution and development

air pollution

July 2019- A recent article found that children who live near major roads are more likely to experience developmental delays and score lower on communication tests. Researchers looked at prenatal and early childhood exposure to PM2.5 and ozone in over 5,000 kids living in New York state. Children that lived fewer than 0.3 miles from a major road were twice as likely to fail a communication test compared to children living more than a half mile away.

Vaping linked to heart problems

vape pen

June 2019- A recently published study has linked vaping to heart problems. Vapes are small devices usually marketed as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes and may contain flavors. The flavors used can damage blood vessel cells and increase heart disease risk, according the article. Researchers also found that amounts of nicotine in the blood of traditional smokers and people vaping were the same after 10 minutes of smoking. According to the FDA, nearly 5% of middle school students use vapes and 20.8% of high schools students use them, an increase from 11.7% in 2017.

Ambient temperature and fetal growth

eggplant baby

June 2019- A study has found that high ambient temperatures during pregnancy were associated with higher risk of small for gestational age (SGA) and lower fetal growth. The study used data from over 29,000,000 births across the U.S. between 1989-2002. Temperatures were estimated across the entire pregnancy and in each trimester. County-specific definitions of warmer-and-colder-than-average temperatures were determined using a spatially refined gridded climate data set. Low temperatures were associated with a small decrease in birth weight but not with SGA. Associations were more strongly associated when temperature was averaged across second and third trimesters and in areas with cold or very cold climates.

Prenatal and newborn pesticide exposure linked to higher risk of ASD

pesticide spray

March 2019- A new study has found that prenatal and newborn exposure to pesticides was linked to higher risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The study, which included over 38,000 people, used autism registry data from California and pesticide spraying data. Researchers found that women who were pregnant and lived within a 2,000 meter radius of a highly sprayed area were 10-16% more likely to have a child diagnosed with ASD. They also found odds ratios were higher by about 30% for prenatal exposure to certain pesticides and up by 50% for exposure to certain pesticides during the first year of life.