Prenatal exposure to certain pollutants linked to behavioural problems in young children

Researchers checking the cord blood of 215 children monitored from birth have found that those with high levels of a pollution exposure marker have more symptoms of attention problems and anxiety/depression at the age of five and seven than children with lower exposure.

The study published in Environmental Health Perspectives involved measuring a fingerprint of exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other combustion-related pollutants in newborns. These pollutants are inhaled by the mother, and include incompletely combusted fossil fuels and other organic matter: for example, in urban air, traffic emissions are a source of these pollutants. Others are tobacco (although none of the mothers in the study were smokers) and pollutants in their diets. The pollutants enter the mother and then cross through the umbilical cord into the foetus and bind to its DNA. The mothers completed a detailed assessment of their children’s behaviour, and the researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health in the US and the Institute of Cancer Research in England analysed the results in this study, which is the first of its kind.

Source: Columbia University

First published in April 2004

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