Many women of reproductive age are employed in industries involving exposure to organic solvents. Animal toxicological studies and human case reports demonstrate that high exposure to solvents causes neurodevelopmental toxicity in exposed offspring. Data from occupationally exposed women and their children are few.
To compare the cognitive, language, and motor performance and the behavioral achievements of children whose mothers were exposed occupationally to organic solvents during pregnancy with those of a matched unexposed control group.
Thirty-two pregnant women occupationally exposed to organic solvents were recruited during pregnancy and followed up. Their offspring (age range, 3-9 years) were tested for cognitive functioning (IQ), language, visual-motor functioning, and behavioral functioning and were compared with a matched unexposed control group that was recruited and tested in a similar manner. Examiners were blinded to the exposure status.
Mothers occupationally exposed to organic solvents did not differ significantly from matched controls in demographic variables. After controlling for potential confounding because of maternal IQ and maternal education, children exposed in utero to organic solvents obtained lower scores on subtests of intellectual, language, motor, and neurobehavioral functioning.
In utero exposure to organic solvents is associated with poorer performance on some specific subtle measures of neurocognitive function, language, and behavior. Reducing exposure in pregnancy is merited until more refined risk assessment is possible. Further studies that address exposure to specific solvents, dose, and gestational timing of exposure are needed.