Study Links Air Pollution to Childhood Behavior Problems

Everyone knows that tobacco or alcohol use during pregnancy can have a negative impact on a developing child's health -- but it turns out there's another dangerous environmental factor which might not be so easy to avoid. According to a new study from Columbia University, researchers found children born to mothers who were exposed to high levels of exhaust fumes during pregnancy were more likely to exhibit behavior and attention problems in their school-age years.

Researchers tested 253 non-smoking women in New York City who gave birth between 1999 and 2006, during their third trimester, for a chemical associated with pollution from motor vehicle exhaust, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). What they found was that children born to woman with high levels of exposure to PAH showed greaters signs of anxiety, depression, and difficulty keeping attention around age 6 or 7 -- reports Medical Daily.

When a mother during pregnancy inhales PAH, the pollutants can be transferred through the placenta to bind to the DNA of the fetus, forming "adducts," or pieces of DNA bonded to chemical mutagens, in blood and other tissues, according to the investigators.

The findings accounted for environmental tobacco smoke as well as maternal diet.

"This study provides evidence that environmental levels of PAH encountered in NYC air can adversely affect child behavior. 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, the study's lead researcher.

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