Legacy Pollutants Linked to Lifelong Health Issues

As an Eagle Scout in the 1980s, Michael Laiosa took canoe trips down the Hudson River, once paddling from his hometown of Albany, New York, to the outskirts of New York City. He saw both spectacular scenery and signs of toxic environmental degradation. Riverfront signs warned against eating river fish or swimming in the water due to pollutants known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Millions of pounds of PCBs flowed into the river over decades, prompting a fishing ban before the industrial chemicals were ultimately outlawed in 1979.

The trips helped shape Laiosa’s career. Today, as an associate professor of environmental health sciences in the Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health, he studies the effects of a related class of pollutants – dioxin – on fetuses. He found that the pollutants could cause immune system changes in fetal mammals exposed to them and lead to weakened immunity for a lifetime.

Those immune deficiencies, in turn, could trigger “anything from increased allergy and asthma as a toddler to increased susceptibility to cancer later in life,” Laiosa said. His research could affect parents’ decisions during pregnancy and how we manage sources of pollution… Read the full story.