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IQ of Child Lower from Pollution Exposure During Pregnancy

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers at the Center for Children's Environmental Health (CCCEH) at the Mailman School of Public Health find that exposure to urban air pollution during pregnancy can result in lower IQ in children. Air pollutants known as PAH’s (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) mostly come from traffic sources, including burning diesel fuel. Burning tobacco also releases PAHs. The result of burning fossil fuels is now linked to lower IQ, and the effects occur before birth.

The study targeted children in New York City to find low verbal IQ scores among children with exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the environment.

The children studied scored lower in verbal IQ scores when compared to children less exposure to air pollutants in New York City. Frederica Perera, DrPH, professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Mailman says, "These findings are of concern because these decreases in IQ could be educationally meaningful in terms of school performance.”

Compared to children whose mothers were less exposed to environmental PAH, The New York City children had verbal IQ scores 4.67 points lower than children of mothers not exposed to PAH’s. Full scale intelligence quotients were 4. 31 points lower.

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The children were born in Washington Heights, Harlem or the South Bronx in New York. Their mothers were non- smoking Black and Dominican American women age 18 to 35 whose children’s IQ were tested at age 5. The study included 249 children. Exposure to pollution from PAH’s was calculated by the researchers using models that took into account second hand smoke exposure, educational level of the mother, quality of care, and exposure to lead.

PAH exposure was “high” in 140 children. Three groups of children were studied from mothers exposed to low and moderate levels of PAH, and a third group with higher than average pollution exposure.

Dr. Perera says exposure to air pollution before birth can be likened to lower IQ’s associated with children exposed to lead. The study authors suggests …”airborne PAH concentrations can be reduced through currently available controls, alternative energy sources and policy interventions”, saying the findings are “of concern”.

The study emphasizes the need to continue efforts to improve air quality, now found to lower intelligence in children from pre-natal exposure. According to Perera, "The good news is that we have seen a decline in air pollution exposure in our cohort since 1998, testifying to the importance of policies to reduce traffic congestion and other sources of fossil fuel combustion byproducts."

The mothers wore personal air monitors during pregnancy to measure their amount of PAH exposure from air pollution that revealed in lower intelligence scores among the children studied. The study revealed lower IQ’s among children whose mother’s exposure to pollution was in the higher range.

Reference: Mailman School