Adults exposed to a chemical in drinking water during their gestation and childhood, were more likely to engage in risky behaviours as teenagers and adults. A new study has discovered that higher in utero and childhood exposure to a solvent known as PCE increased the risk of cigarette, drug, and alcohol use as a teenager and young adult. These results are consistent with previous animal and human studies reporting that PCE can affect both behaviour and cognition in animals and humans. This is the first study to evaluate the behavioural consequences of early life PCE exposure in adulthood. Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) is a solvent that is widely used for dry cleaning and metal degreasing. People can be exposed if they work in certain industries or by drinking contaminated water. In addition, PCE was used in the vinyl lining sprayed into water supply pipes in the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts. It was assumed that the PCE evaporated after application, but was later detected in the drinking water of nearly 100 Massachusetts towns and cities. The amount of PCE in the drinking water varied among residents, thus leading to a wide range of exposure. Researchers contacted 1,378 Cape Cod, Mass. residents during their late 20’s and early 30’s, and then asked them questions related to their illicit drug (such as, cocaine, designer drugs, hallucinogens, heroin), alcohol and cigarette use while they were teenagers and young adults. The researchers have linked these surveys to municipal water records and birth certificates to determine the participant’s exposure to PCE. They also used these data to control for factors, such as socioeconomic status, mental illness and mother’s drug and alcohol use. Individuals with the highest PCE exposure were 60 percent more likely to use two or more illicit drugs as a teenager or young adult compared to individuals with no PCE exposure. Those participants with higher PCE exposure had twice the risk of using crack cocaine as those with no exposure. The association was stronger if the mothers did not smoke, drink or use drugs while pregnant with the participant. The main limitation of this study is that it did not measures drinking water consumption for the mother during gestation or the participant during childhood. Thus, the investigators were unable to directly measure how much PCE individuals ingested. Future studies will need to confirm these findings in other populations and determine if these and other behaviours are impacted by PCE exposure.
Environmental Health News, 16 January 2012 ;