Wearable Devices May Predict Air Pollution Exposure, Study Suggests


A recent study provides new insights into the factors influencing air pollution exposure among pregnant individuals, employing personal wristband monitors to measure exposure to a variety of air pollution compounds known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

According to the study published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, PAHs are compounds generated primarily from combustion processes commonly found in sources like automotive exhaust and tobacco smoke. Previous research has indicated potential links between the compounds and adverse health outcomes, particularly concerning fetal growth and neurodevelopment.

For the investigation, researchers aimed to identify the variables that may increase risk of PAH exposure in pregnant individuals. The study included 177 participants, all in their third trimester of pregnancy. Participants were asked to wear silicone wristbands for a continuous 48-hour period to capture PAH exposure data. They were also asked to complete a detailed questionnaire, providing demographic and employment information, and discussing potential exposure sources like cooking, smoking, and transportation.

The findings revealed complex interactions between demographic factors and behaviors, influencing exposure to individual PAH compounds in varied ways.

"This study underscored the utility of silicone wristbands in evaluating PAH exposures and associated health outcomes. By combining questionnaire data with a 48-hour wristband deployment, we were able to refine measurements of exposure sources in terms of time and space, enabling more accurate source characterization,” Sarah McLarnan, MPH, a PhD candidate at Columbia Mailman and the study's first author, added.

According to Julie Herbstman, PhD, senior author of the study and director of the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health these findings shed light on PAH exposure patterns. "This study represents a significant advancement in our understanding of personal PAH exposure,” she explained. “By uncovering the variables that play a crucial role in exposure levels, we are better equipped to develop interventions aimed at reducing health risks.

However, the investigation did have limitations. According to the study, the wristbands did not capture all forms of PAH exposure, particularly those through food, and the 48-hour monitoring period may not fully represent an individual's average exposure during pregnancy.

Nevertheless, the authors noted that everyone can take steps to minimize their exposure to PAHs with simple precautions such as steering clear of tobacco smoke, maintaining proper ventilation indoors, and avoiding foods that are smoked, grilled, or charbroiled.