Skip to main content

27-03-2012 | Gynaecology | Article

Prenatal exposure to atmospheric pollutants may adversely influence child behavior


Free full text

MedWire News: Research shows that children who are exposed to high levels of in utero atmospheric pollution, in the form of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), are more likely to develop behavioral problems in childhood than those who are not.

"Because of the heightened susceptibility of the fetus and infant, exposures to PAH and other environmental pollutants during the prenatal and early postnatal stages are of particular concern," say Frederica Perera (Columbia University, New York, USA) and colleagues.

To investigate the effects of prenatal exposure to PAH on childhood behavior, Perera and team followed up 253 nonsmoking, African-American or Dominican mothers and children living in New York City when the children were aged 6-7 years. Child behavior was evaluated using the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL).

The team had previously recorded prenatal PAH exposure during pregnancy (1996-2006) through personal air monitoring of the mothers, in addition to measurement of benzo[a]pyrene DNA adducts occurring as a result of PAH exposure in maternal and cord blood.

All of the mothers had some exposure to PAH in their personal air, although levels of exposure varied widely, suggesting that there is widespread exposure to these pollutants.

Writing in Environmental Health Perspectives, the team found that children who were exposed to high PAH in utero, defined as maternal air exposure greater than the mean of 2.27 ng/m2 or detectable maternal or cord blood benzo[a]pyrene DNA adducts, had significantly increased risk for having behavioral problems at age 6-7 years compared with children who had low PAH exposure in utero (maternal air exposure below the mean or no detectable benzo[a]pyrene DNA adducts).

The problems primarily consisted of anxious/depressive symptomatology (1.72-fold greater than low PAH exposure group) or problems with attention (1.38-fold greater than low PAH exposure group).

"The results suggest an adverse impact of prenatal PAH exposure on child behavior that could impact cognitive development and ability to learn," say the authors.

"Anxiety, depression, and attention problems, which were associated with PAH exposure and benzo[a]pyrene-DNA adducts in our study population, have been shown to affect subsequent academic performance," they add.

The researchers note that the children in this study are being followed up until the age of 12 years "therefore subsequent testing will provide a picture of the longer term developmental outcomes of children in the cohort," they conclude.

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2012

By Helen Albert

Related topics