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Environ Health. 2011 Dec 2;10:102. doi: 10.1186/1476-069X-10-102.

Affinity for risky behaviors following prenatal and early childhood exposure to tetrachloroethylene (PCE)-contaminated drinking water: a retrospective cohort study.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology, Boston University School of Public Health, 715 Albany Street, Boston, MA 02118, USA.



Many studies of adults with acute and chronic solvent exposure have shown adverse effects on cognition, behavior and mood. No prior study has investigated the long-term impact of prenatal and early childhood exposure to the solvent tetrachloroethylene (PCE) on the affinity for risky behaviors, defined as smoking, drinking or drug use as a teen or adult.


This retrospective cohort study examined whether early life exposure to PCE-contaminated drinking water influenced the occurrence of cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, and drug use among adults from Cape Cod, Massachusetts.


Eight hundred and thirty-one subjects with prenatal and early childhood PCE exposure and 547 unexposed subjects were studied. Participants completed questionnaires to gather information on risky behaviors as a teenager and young adult, demographic characteristics, other sources of solvent exposure, and residences from birth through 1990. PCE exposure was estimated using the U.S. EPA's water distribution system modeling software (EPANET) that was modified to incorporate a leaching and transport model to estimate PCE exposures from pipe linings.


Individuals who were highly exposed to PCE-contaminated drinking water during gestation and early childhood experienced 50-60% increases in the risk of using two or more major illicit drugs as a teenager or as an adult (Relative Risk (RR) for teen use = 1.6, 95% CI: 1.2-2.2; and RR for adult use = 1.5, 95% CI: 1.2-1.9). Specific drugs for which increased risks were observed included crack/cocaine, psychedelics/hallucinogens, club/designer drugs, Ritalin without a prescription, and heroin (RRs:1.4-2.1). Thirty to 60% increases in the risk of certain smoking and drinking behaviors were also seen among highly exposed subjects.


The results of this study suggest that risky behaviors, particularly drug use, are more frequent among adults with high PCE exposure levels during gestation and early childhood. These findings should be confirmed in follow-up investigations of other exposed populations.

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