PCE in drinking water caused mental illness in Cape Cod-ers?

We went crazy just reading this study…

… ’cause it’s so bad.

No exposure data. Self-reported and unvalidated diagnoses and health/psychological data. Unknown physiological mechanism. Weak/insignificant statistical results. Yuck.

The media release and abstract are below. Click here for the study.

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PCE in drinking water linked to an increased risk of mental illness

The solvent tetrachloroethylene (PCE) widely used in industry and to dry clean clothes is a neurotoxin known to cause mood changes, anxiety, and depression in people who work with it. To date the long-term effect of this chemical on children exposed to PCE has been less clear, although there is some evidence that children of people who work in the dry cleaning industry have an increased risk of schizophrenia. New research published in BioMed Central’s open access journal Environmental Health found that exposure to PCE as a child was associated with an increased risk of bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

From 1968, until the early 1980s, water companies in Massachusetts installed vinyl-lined (VL/AC) water pipes that were subsequently found to be leaching PCE into the drinking water supply. Researchers from Boston University followed the incidence of mental illness amongst adults from Cape Cod, born between 1969 and 1983, who were consequently exposed to PCE both before birth and during early childhood.

While there was no increase seen in the incidence of depression, regardless of PCE exposure, people with prenatal and early childhood exposure to PCE had almost twice the risk of bipolar disorder, compared to an unexposed group, and their risk of PTSD was raised by 50%.

Dr Ann Aschengrau from Boston University School of Public Health warned, “It is impossible to calculate the exact amount of PCE these people were exposed to – levels of PCE were recorded as high as 1,550 times the currently recommended safe limit. While the water companies flushed the pipes to address this problem, people are still being exposed to PCE in the dry cleaning and textile industries, and from consumer products, and so the potential for an increased risk of illness remains real.”

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Abstract

Background

While many studies of adults with solvent exposure have shown increased risks of anxiety and depressive disorders, there is little information on the impact of prenatal and early childhood exposure on the subsequent risk of mental illness. This retrospective cohort study examined whether early life exposure to tetrachloroethylene (PCE)-contaminated drinking water influenced the occurrence of depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia among adults from Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Methods

A total of 1,512 subjects born between 1969 and 1983 were studied, including 831 subjects with both prenatal and early childhood PCE exposure and 547 unexposed subjects. Participants completed questionnaires to gather information on mental illnesses, demographic and medical characteristics, other sources of solvent exposure, and residences from birth through 1990. PCE exposure originating from the vinyl-liner of water distribution pipes was assessed using water distribution system modeling software that incorporated a leaching and transport algorithm.

Results

No meaningful increases in risk ratios (RR) for depression were observed among subjects with prenatal and early childhood exposure (RR: 1.1, 95% CI: 0.9-1.4). However, subjects with prenatal and early childhood exposure had a 1.8-fold increased risk of bipolar disorder (N=36 exposed cases, 95% CI: 0.9-1.4), a 1.5-fold increased risk post-traumatic stress disorder (N=47 exposed cases, 95% CI: 0.9-2.5), and a 2.1-fold increased risk of schizophrenia (N=3 exposed cases, 95% CI: 0.2-20.0). Further increases in the risk ratio were observed for bipolar disorder (N=18 exposed cases, RR; 2.7, 95% CI: 1.3-5.6) and post-traumatic stress disorder (N=18 exposed cases, RR: 1.7, 95% CI: 0.9-3.2) among subjects with the highest exposure levels.

Conclusions

The results of this study provide evidence against an impact of early life exposure to PCE on the risk of depression. In contrast, the results provide support for an impact of early life exposure on the risk of bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. The number of schizophrenia cases was too small to draw reliable conclusions. These findings should be confirmed in investigations of other similarly exposed populations.

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