Objective In 2001, the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health conducted a prospective study in Tongliang, China, to examine the benefits to child health of eliminating a major source of air pollution. Until 2004, a coal-fired power plant was the principal source of air pollution in Tongliang. The plant was shut down in 2004. Emissions from the plant contained carcinogens including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). PAH bind to DNA, forming PAH–DNA adducts, which provide a measure of exposure and potential risk.
Methods We enrolled three cohorts of non-smoking women into the study, measuring PAH–DNA adducts in cord blood and clinical outcomes in the children from birth to age 10 years. We also conducted air monitoring in Tongliang. Each cohort included approximately 150 mothers/150 children.
Results In the first cohort, enrolled in 2002, we found that high PAH–DNA adduct levels in cord blood were associated with decreased birth head circumference and reduced children’s weight at 18 months, 24 months and 30 months of age. The second cohort, enrolled in 2005 after the shut down of the power plant, had significantly lower levels of PAH–DNA adducts in cord blood (p<0.05) and their birth outcomes were more favourable. Air monitoring data showed that the levels of air pollutants were significantly lower during the gestational period of the second cohort.
Conclusion The findings indicate that implementation of sound environmental policy to remove a polluting coal-burning source can significantly improve the quality of the environment and have direct benefits on children’s health.