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Research Grants

NIEHS/EPA Children’s Environmental Health Centers Center for Research on Early Childhood Exposure and Development in Puerto Rico (CRECE)

Institution: Northeastern University
Center Director: Akram Alshawabkeh, Ph.D.
Project Period: July 2015 – June 2019

Research Questions

Project 1: What is the relationship between air pollution, preterm birth and brain development?
Project 2: How do complex pollutant mixtures affect infant and early childhood development?
Project 3: How do environmental toxicant exposures during pregnancy affect childhood health and development?

Keywords: Air Pollution, Drinking Water, Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, Growth, Health Disparities Neurodevelopment, Prenatal Exposures, Preterm Birth, Parabens, Phenols, Reproductive Development


Children in Puerto Rico are exposed to a complex mix of environmental contaminants. Air pollution from refineries, power plants, motor vehicles and large ships at ports is very high and made worse by Saharan dust storms crossing the Atlantic, which have increased in frequency in recent decades. Children in highly polluted areas like Puerto Rico rarely experience any of these exposures in isolation, yet studies about chemical mixtures are rare, with most research instead focusing on single chemicals. This center is studying the impact of multiple environmental chemicals on child health and development. The study focuses on children of the heavily-contaminated northern coast of Puerto Rico – an underserved, highly-exposed and low-income population with significant health disparities. Researchers are also evaluating how social and economic factors may modify the effects of the environment on childhood health.

Project Abstract and Annual Reports:  Center for Research on Early Childhood Exposure and Development in Puerto Rico
Center Website: Center for Research on Early Childhood Exposure and Development in Puerto Rico (CRECE) Exit

Research Projects

Project 1: Air Pollution Impacts on Neonatal and Early Childhood Development
This project is investigating the impacts of air pollution on development for infants and children living in Puerto Rico. Researchers are also working to define social factors that increase children’s vulnerability to the harmful effects of air pollution.

Project Leaders: Helen Suh, Sc.D., Northeastern University

Project 2: Toxicogenomics-based Mechanistic Multimedia Exposure Assessment and Child Development
This project is examining the impacts of chemical mixtures on childhood health and development. Results from this project will be critical to developing strategies to reduce the burden of disease in children in the U.S.

Project Leaders: April Gu, Ph.D., Northeastern University

Project 3: Biomarker Epidemiology of In Utero Environmental Exposures and Child Development
Recent studies have shown that rates of developmental disorders are increasing in the U.S and that the rates are particularly high in Puerto Rico. Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), such as parabens and phenols, interfere with the body’s natural hormones to cause developmental disorders. Widespread exposures to these chemicals have been documented among pregnant women. This project is investigating the relationship between exposure to EDCs during pregnancy and various childhood health outcomes, including preterm birth, child growth, reproductive development, brain development and lung function.

Project Leader: John Meeker, Sc.D., University of Michigan