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environmental exposures and risk factors


For many people, "the environment" conjures
up images of polluted air and water, hazardous waste sites and toxic spills.

From the perspective of the developing fetus, however, the environment includes everything
the mother may come into contact with during pregnancy. For this reason, our studies look at
a wide range of risk factors and exposures in
both the mother and father.

Among the areas studied by the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program are:

bullet Chemicals, like pesticides and solvents
bullet Diet, nutrition and vitamin use
bullet Drinking water
bullet Electromagnetic fields
bullet Hazardous waste sites
bullet Health status, illness, medications
bullet Occupation and hobbies
bullet Pregnancy complications
bullet Tobacco, drug and alcohol use
bullet Stressful life events


Because most structural development of the
fetus occurs during early pregnancy, our studies usually focus on the "periconceptional" periodthe month before and first 3 months
after conception.

Studies must validate biologically plausible pathways of exposurein other words, ways the mother could have been exposed. Proximity is
not enough. If a pregnant woman lives near a source of environmental concern, for example,
we also consider whether she could have inhaled, ingested or otherwise been exposed to harmful conditions.

faucet filling up a cup

pill bottles


fruit basket

woman spraying household chemicals

How do you document exposures or reconstruct events that occurred 9 months before birth? Program studies are meeting this challenge:

bullet Our interviews with mothers about pregnancy events provide a starting point; questions explore daily habits, health and lifestyle.
bullet Mapping programs calculate how close mothers' residences are to possible environmental hazards (as many as 1 in 4 women move during pregnancy, so all addresses must be considered).
bullet Complex models use environmental monitoring records to estimate exposures such as air pollution or contaminants in drinking water.
bullet An industrial hygienest determines chemicals or other exposures likely to be encountered in specific jobs or hobbies.

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