Maternal occupational exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and the risk of isolated congenital heart defects among offspring

Patel J, Nembhard WN, Politis MD, Rocheleau CM, Langlois PH, Shaw GM, Romitti PA, Gilboa SM, Desrosiers TA, Insaf T, Lupo PJ; National Birth Defects Prevention Study.

Environ Res. 2020 Apr 18;186:109550. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2020.109550. [Epub ahead of print]

PMID: 32335433

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Background: Although there is evidence in experimental model systems that exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) is linked with congenital heart defects (CHDs), few studies have examined the association in humans. We conducted a case-control study to examine the association between maternal exposure to PAHs and CHDs in offspring using data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study (NBDPS) (1997-2011).

Methods: We obtained detailed information on maternal occupation during the month before to three months after conception. Expert raters, masked to case-control status, assessed job descriptions to assign categorical levels of exposure. Categories were quantitatively mapped to estimate cumulative exposure to PAHs, incorporating exposure intensity, frequency, work duration, and work hours. Quartiles were generated for cumulative maternal exposure to PAHs. Crude and adjusted odds ratios (ORs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were estimated using unconditional logistic regression for quartiles of PAH exposure and six CHD groupings (e.g. conotruncal) and specific subtypes (e.g. tetralogy of Fallot [ToF]). Final models were adjusted for maternal age, race/ethnicity, education, smoking, anticonvulsant use, folic acid supplementation, and study center.

Results: There were 4,775 case and 7,734 control infants eligible for the study. The prevalence of occupational exposure to PAHs was 10.2% among both case and control mothers. In adjusted analysis, compared to mothers with no occupational PAH exposure, those in the highest quartile of exposure were more likely to have offspring in the conotruncal heart defects group (OR 1.41; 95% CI 1.00-2.00), and with ToF (OR 1.83; 95% CI 1.21-2.78).

Conclusions: Women in the highest quartile of estimated cumulative occupational PAH exposure during early pregnancy were more likely to have offspring with conotruncal heart defects, specifically ToF, compared to women with no occupational PAH exposure. Other comparisons between PAHs and other CHDs subgroups did not show any statistically precise associations.