Maternal exposure to hazardous air pollutants and oral clefts among offspring: Texas, 1999-2008

Anushuya Ramakrishnan, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Birth defects are a leading cause of infant mortality in the United States. About one in 33 births in the United States is diagnosed with birth defects. Common birth defects include neural tube defects, Down syndrome and oral clefts. The present study focused on oral clefts. Oral clefts refer to the malformation of lip, mouth or both. Birth prevalence of oral clefts in Texas is about 11 per 10,000 births. Etiologically, oral clefts have been classified into two groups, cleft lip with or without cleft palate (CL±P) and isolated cleft palate (CP). In spite of their high prevalence and clinical significance, the etiology of oral clefts in humans has not been well understood. Though a number of risk factors have been identified in epidemiological studies, most of them do not explain the majority of the cases. The need to identify novel risk factors associated with oral clefts provided the motivation for this study. The present study focused on maternal exposure to several hazardous air pollutants. A common subgroup of hazardous air pollutants is the volatile organic compounds found in petroleum derivatives. Four important hydrocarbons in this group are benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylenes (BTEX). The specific aim of this study was to evaluate the association between maternal exposure to environmental levels of BTEX and oral clefts among offspring in Texas for the period 1999-2008. A case-control study design was used to assess if maternal exposure to BTEX increased the risk of oral clefts. The Texas Birth Defects Registry provided data on cases of non-syndromic oral clefts delivered in Texas during the period 1999-2008. Census tract level maternal exposure to BTEX concentrations were obtained from the Hazardous Air Pollutant Exposure Model (HAPEM) developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Unconditional logistic regression was used to assess the relationship between maternal exposure to BTEX levels and risk of oral clefts in offspring. In the selected population, mothers who had high estimated exposure to any of the BTEX compounds were not more likely to deliver an offspring with oral clefts. Future research efforts will focus on additional birth defects and thorough assessment of additional potential confounders.

Subject Area

Environmental Health|Epidemiology

Recommended Citation

Ramakrishnan, Anushuya, "Maternal exposure to hazardous air pollutants and oral clefts among offspring: Texas, 1999-2008" (2013). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1544234.