Exposure to Pollutants During Pregnancy Can Lead to Child Behavioral Problems

Mothers’ exposure during pregnancy to pollutants may lead to behavioral problems in their children, according to a new study.Researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) and the Institute of Cancer Research in England monitored 215 children from birth into childhood, and found that those children with high levels of a pollution exposure marker in their cord blood had more symptoms of attention problems and anxiety/depression at ages 5 and 7 than did children with lower exposure.

When pregnant mothers breathe in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and other combustion-related pollutants, the pollutants can be transferred across the placenta and bind to the DNA to the fetus.  This process forms adducts in the blood and other tissues, which researchers used to measure the level of exposure.

In urban air, traffic emissions are a dominant source of the pollutants measured in the study, the researchers said.  They controlled for other factors such as environmental tobacco smoke and diet in the analyses.

“The results are of potential concern since attention problems and anxiety and depression may affect subsequent academic performance as well as peer relationships and other aspects of societal functioning,” said Dr. Frederica Perera, the study’s lead author and Center Director.

Perera said it is possible to reduce air pollution through currently available pollution controls, energy efficiency alternative energy sources.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.