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Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2011 Dec;107(3):315-22. doi: 10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2011.08.006. Epub 2011 Sep 3.

Non-cancer effects of chemical agents on children's health.

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  • 1Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel, Switzerland.


This paper provides an overview about the non-cancer health effects for children from relevant chemical agents in our environment. In addition, a meta-analysis was conducted on the association between sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and maternal smoking during pregnancy as well as postnatal exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). In children, birth deformities, neurodevelopment, reproductive outcomes and respiratory system are mainly affected by chemical exposures. According to recent systematic reviews, evidence is sufficient for cognitive impairments caused by low lead exposure levels. Evidence for neurotoxicity from prenatal methylmercury exposure is sufficient for high exposure levels and limited for low levels. Prenatal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) and related toxicants results in cognitive and motor deficits. Maternal smoking during pregnancy is a risk factor for preterm birth, foetal growth deficit and SIDS. The meta-analytic pooled risk estimate for SIDS based on 15 studies is 2.94 (95% confidence interval: 2.43-3.57). Postnatal exposure to ETS was found to increase the SIDS risk by a factor of 1.72 (95% CI: 1.28-2.30) based on six studies which took into account maternal smoking during pregnancy. Additionally, postnatal ETS exposure causes acute respiratory infections, ear problems, respiratory symptoms, more severe asthma, and it slows lung growth. These health effects are also of concern for postnatal exposure to ambient and indoor air pollution. Children differ from adults with respect to several aspects which are relevant for assessing their health risk. Thus, independent evaluation of toxicity in childhood populations is essential.

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