Symposium to Focus on Measuring Environmental Human Health and Exposures

Posted on October 9, 2013

Children in Western Pennsylvania appear to be exposed to more toxic chemicals than other children nationwide, and children with autism may process these chemicals differently from other children, suggests a study by Duquesne University and The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh.

Dr. H.M. “Skip” Kingston, professor of analytical chemistry at Duquesne, collaborating with developmental pediatrician Dr. Scott Faber at The Children’s Institute, has examined environmental pollutants and autism in children.

Their studies, measurements and concerns about these potentially harmful compounds will be discussed at Environmental Exposure Science: Regional Perspectives to Integrate Exposure and Exposome Measurement With Effects on Human Health, a free, half-day symposium, on Wednesday, Oct. 16, in the Power Center Ballroom. Besides Kingston and Faber, representatives from The Heinz Endowments and Agilent Technologies will address the impact of multiple environmental factors on human health.

In sampling Pittsburgh-area children with and without autism, Kingston and Faber found higher-than-national normal levels of some organic toxic chemicals.

“The magnesium and glutathione data support the presence of compensatory physiology in children with autism exposed to the high heavy metal and chemical stress of living in Western Pennsylvania,” Kingston and Faber concluded, leading them to believe that children with autism detoxify differently from those without the condition.

The children in the study, with and without autism, had much higher blood concentrations of certain chemicals—benzene, toluene and xylene—compared to national concentrations.

Speakers and topics will include:

  • 9:25 a.m., Dr. Skip Kingston, Environmental Human Health and Exposomic Analyses in Regional Autism Patients and Controls
  • 9:50 a.m., Dr. Philip R.S. Johnson, senior officer, Environment Program, The Heinz Endowments, Air Quality, Health Impacts and Exposure Assessment in the Pittsburgh Region
  • 10:30 a.m., Dr. Scott Faber, A Comparative Study of Children with Autism and Controls on Genetic, Toxicologic, Immunologic and Behavioral Phenotype Data: Evidence for an Integrative Theoretical Model?

Over the past two years, the National Academy of Sciences released two reports about measuring the environment’s impact on health by considering the effects of multiple pollutants on individuals and ecosystems over their life spans. The study puts Kingston and Faber at the forefront of this new field the federal government calls the exposome: the aggregate sum of lifetime exposure to external chemical entities and how they impact chronic human disease.

“One of the key aspects of our study was implementation of a new measurement protocol that enables quantification that is significantly more accurate and precise,” Kingston said. “We actually invented new tests or improved existing tests to produce the data quality that would enable us to get a true picture of the health issues with these children.”

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