Human exposure to environmental contaminants and congenital anomalies: a critical review
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Congenital anomalies are an important cause of infant mortality and disability. Developmental exposure to environmental contaminants is thought to increase the risk for congenital anomalies. Herein, we describe a critical review of the literature conducted between February and March 2014 yielding 3057 references from which 97 unique relevant articles published from 2003 through 2014 were evaluated. Common congenital anomalies including hypospadias, cryptorchidism, anogenital distance (AGD), congenital heart defects and oral clefts were well represented in the literature whereas other outcomes such as neural tube defects, limb deficiency defects and gastroschisis were rarely described. While definitions used for congenital anomalies and methods of ascertainment were usually consistent across studies, inconsistencies were frequently found in grouping of different congenital heart defects. Despite strong links between some congenital anomalies and parental occupation, these studies are unable to provide clear insight into the specific chemicals responsible owing to lack of direct measures of exposure. In comparison, data are mixed for contaminant exposures at concentrations representative of results from contemporary biomonitoring studies. Of the environmental contaminants studied, the association between phthalate exposures and developmental abnormalities of the male reproductive tract received the greatest attention. Important limitations of the literature studied relate to adequacy of sample size, absence of or weaknesses in exposure assessment methodologies, failure to account for biological plausibility and grouping of congenital anomalies with divergent mechanisms. We conclude that the literature is inadequate at this time to support a conclusion that exposure to environmental contaminants are or are not associated with increased risks for congenital anomalies in the general population.
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