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Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Jun;109(6):551-6.

Residential water source and the risk of childhood brain tumors.

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Public Health Sciences Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington USA.


Gestation may represent a window of susceptibility to transplacental effects of environmental exposures, including chemicals in water. The N-nitroso compounds (NNC), a class of chemicals with demonstrated neurocarcinogenic potential, include substances detected in drinking water. We used data from a study of possible risk factors for childhood brain tumors (CBT) to investigate the association of source of residential drinking water during pregnancy and CBT occurrence among offspring. In addition, dipstick measurements were made of nitrates and nitrites in tap water for the subset of women living in the same home they had lived in during their pregnancies. Population-based CBT cases (n = 540) and controls (n = 801) were identified in three regions including Los Angeles County, and the San Francisco Bay Area of California, and the Seattle-Puget Sound area of western Washington state. Overall, we observed no increased risk of CBT in offspring associated with wells as the source of residential water. However, an increased risk of CBT [odds ratio (OR) = 2.6; 95% confidence interval (CI), = 1.3-5.2] was observed in western Washington among offspring of women who relied exclusively on well water, and a decreased risk of CBT (OR = 0.2; 95% CI, 0.1-0.8) was observed in Los Angeles County. Among the small subset of subjects for whom dipstick measurements of tap water were available, the risk of CBT associated with the presence of either measurable nitrite and/or nitrate was 1.1 (95% CI, 0.7-2.0). Given the crude measurement method employed and because measurements often were obtained years after these pregnancies occurred, the relevance of the dipstick findings is unclear. The lack of consistency in our findings related to residential water source does not support the hypothesis of increased risk related to consumption of well water; however, regional differences in well water content may exist, and the increased risk observed in western Washington deserves further evaluation.

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