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Womb Air Pollution Linked to ADHD

Update Date: Nov 05, 2014 06:30 PM EST

Expectant mothers exposed to air pollution are significantly more likely to give birth to children with ADHD-related behavior problems, according to a new study.

New research has linked prenatal exposure of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at age nine.

The latest study involved 233 nonsmoking pregnant women and their children in New York City. Researchers found that children born to mothers exposed to high levels of PAH during pregnancy were five times more likely to develop ADHD-like symptoms by age 9 compared to those whose mothers did not have high PAH exposure.

"This study suggests that exposure to PAH encountered in New York City air may play a role in childhood ADHD," lead author Frederica Perera, DrPH, PhD, director of the Center and professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School, said in a news release. "The findings are concerning because attention problems are known to impact school performance, social relationships, and occupational performance."

Government health officials estimate that 10 percent of American children have ADHD.  Children with ADHD are easily distracted, have a hard time focusing, impulsive and disorganized. Researchers note that PAH are toxic air pollutants from traffic, residential boilers, and electricity generating plants using fossil fuel.

Researchers said that the latest study is the first to explore the link between prenatal PAH and ADHD in children over time.

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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