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Prenatal Exposure To Air Pollution Can Harm Kids

Update Date: Mar 27, 2012 02:15 PM EDT

Mothers' exposure to air pollutants during pregnancy can cause behavioral problems in the child, a new study led by Dr Frederica Perera, Director of the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health, says.

Symptoms of anxiety, depression and attention problems were detected among children whose mothers were highly exposed to air pollutants like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) during their pregnancy.

PAHs are found in oil, coal and tar deposits and are produced as byproducts of fuel burning. PAHs are released into the atmosphere during incomplete burning of fossil fuel such as diesel, gasoline, coal and other organic material.

"This study provides evidence that environmental levels of PAH encountered in NYC air can adversely affect child behaviour. The results are of concern because attention problems and anxiety and depression have been shown to affect peer relationships and academic performance," said Dr Perera, in an article published by Columbia University.

The paper, "Prenatal Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) Exposure and Child Behavior at age 6-7," published in Environmental Health Perspectives, is the first of its kind of study relating some child behavioural problems among school-age children to prenatal PAH exposure.

A sample of about 253 children born between 1999 and 2006 to a group of non-smoking inner-city mothers was taken to prove the theory. Two methods were adopted to detect signs of PAH exposure.

One was the PAH concentration in air from personal air sampling at the third trimester of pregnancy. The other one dealt with measuring PAH-DNA adducts in maternal blood and newborn umbilical cord blood. PAH, when inhaled during pregnancy forms adducts in blood and other tissues, making it easy to measure the level of pollutant exposure.

Environmental tobacco smoke and diet's role were also analysed, but all mothers who participated in the experiment were non-smokers.


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