By Rebecca M. Burton
Industrial hygienists have long been aware of the potential impact of parents’ occupational exposures on their children’s health—for example, in recognizing that both paternal and maternal lead exposure affects fertility and birth outcomes, and knowing that workplace chemicals that are “taken home” could subsequently expose and harm family members. Since the passage of the Children’s Health Act of 2000, there has been an increasing interest in occupational and environmental exposures that impact the health of children. In response, the AIHA® Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Committee (OEEC) hosted a roundtable at AIHce 2013 to explore some of the current key topics in this area of environmental health. Moderated by AIHA Fellow Dr. Susan Viet, OEEC member and past chair, the panel featured four speakers whose in-depth expertise focused on various aspects of children’s health outcomes resulting from exposures faced by parents in the workplace.
First, the University of Kentucky’s Dr. Wayne Sanderson discussed the associations between parents’ self-reported occupational exposures and incidence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in their children, as investigated by the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and Environment (CHARGE) study. This wide-reaching project is examining the effects of both environmental exposures, such as proximity to freeways, and occupational exposures, such as pesticide use.
Next, Dr. Christopher Rennix of the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center described a study conducted by the U.S. Navy exploring incidence rates of birth defects among the children of military personnel in Naples, Italy. Air pollution through trash burning, groundwater pollution, and occupational sources were among the exposures investigated during the study.
Dr. P. Barry Ryan of Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health introduced AIHce attendees to a longitudinal Thai birth cohort study in which multiple urinary- and blood-based biomarkers are collected from pregnant mothers who have been exposed to high levels of organophosphates and pyrethroid pesticides. Exposures varied based on the season and trimester of pregnancy, and researchers will analyze these exposures against neurological development in the children.
Lastly, in discussing the Women's Health in Apprenticeship Trades–Metalworkers and Electricians (WHAT–ME) study, the University of Alberta’s Dr. Nicola Cherry presented the prospective study design along with initial findings, which examine urinary metals concentrations in the first trimester and fetal neurological effects for women—particularly welders—in these trades. Higher rates of fetal death were present among both welders and electricians, and researchers plan to evaluate ergonomics factors as a possible cause for this finding.
The four panelists gave a broad overview of the different methodologies being used to examine environmental and occupational exposures in workers and the health outcomes that affect their children. As environmental exposures become more ubiquitous, it’s necessary for health and safety professionals to find the connections between these exposures and the associated health outcomes—not just in workers, but in their families as well. Studies like those discussed during this roundtable will help greatly increase our understanding of these connections and enable us to better protect workers and their families.
Rebecca M. Burton, MPH, is a recent industrial hygiene graduate from the University of Minnesota. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.