Residents of Massachusetts and Rhode Island were exposed to the solvent PCE (tetrachloroethylene), a known neurotoxin and “probable carcinogen” according to the EPA, in drinking water from 1968 through the early 1990s, after it was used to apply a vinyl liner to hundreds of miles of new drinking water mains.
Now, a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers and published in Environmental Health found women with any PCE exposure had a 1.7-fold increased odds of stillbirth due to placental abruption or placental insufficiency, and those with the highest level of exposure had a 1.9-fold increased odds.
The researchers looked at 296 stillbirths between 1968 and 1995 among women who lived in 28 Massachusetts and Rhode Island cities and towns with some affected water mains, and a control group of 783 live-born infants who were delivered in the same time period and geographic area. The researchers limited stillbirth cases to those attributed to placental abruption and/or placental insufficiency, which they had found to have the strongest association with PCE-contaminated water in their previous study. They then gathered data on other variables from vital records and from questionnaires answered by the women who had had stillbirths and live births. A woman’s degree of PCE exposure was estimated using a leaching and transport model integrated into water system software.
“We were surprised to find an increased risk for low exposure levels because we have not seen that for other health effects,” says lead author Dr. Ann Aschengrau, professor of epidemiology at BUSPH. “We need to ensure that government regulations for drinking water contaminants take into account vulnerable populations such as pregnant women. We must ensure that our drinking water supplies are safe for all to consume.”