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Assessing the relation of chemical and non-chemical stressors with risk-taking related behavior and adaptive individual attributes among adolescents living near the New Bedford Harbor Superfund site.

  • Author(s): Vieira, Verónica M
  • Levy, Jonathan I
  • Fabian, M Patricia
  • Korrick, Susan
  • et al.


Early life exposure to neurotoxicants and non-chemical psychosocial stressors can impede development of prefrontal cortical functions that promote behavioral regulation and thereby may predispose to adolescent risk-taking related behaviors (e.g., substance use or high-risk sexual activity). This is particularly concerning for communities exposed to multiple stressors.


This study examined the relation of exposure to mixtures of chemical stressors, non-chemical psychosocial stressors, and other risk factors with neuropsychological correlates of risk-taking. Specifically, we assessed psychometric measures of both adverse behavioral regulation and adaptive attributes among adolescents (age ∼ 15 years) in the New Bedford Cohort (NBC), a sociodemographically diverse cohort of 788 children born 1993-1998 to mothers residing near the New Bedford Harbor Superfund site. The NBC includes biomarkers of prenatal exposure to organochlorines and metals; sociodemographic, parental and home characteristics; and periodic neurodevelopmental assessments. We modelled exposure mixtures using multi-dimensional smooths within generalized additive models.


Children of younger mothers with lower IQ who were exposed prenatally to higher polychlorinated biphenyls and lead had poorer anger control. This pattern was not apparent for children of older mothers with higher IQs. Direction of associations between increased hyperactivity and prenatal levels of organochlorine mixtures differed by maternal age and depression symptoms. Higher cord blood Pb levels, in conjunction with poorer HOME scores, were associated with poorer self-esteem when mothers had fewer depression symptoms.


Analyses suggest that prenatal chemical exposures and non-chemical factors interact to contribute to neuropsychological correlates of risk-taking behaviors in adolescence. By simultaneously considering multiple factors associated with adverse behavioral regulation, we identified potential high-risk combinations that reflect both chemical and psychosocial stressors amenable to intervention.

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