NEW YORK ( March 22, 2012) - Mothers' exposure during pregnancy to a class of air pollutants called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) can lead to behavioral problems in their children. PAH are released to air during incomplete combustion of fossil fuel such as diesel, gasoline, coal, and other organic material.
The study is the first report of associations between child attentional and behavioral problems among school‐age children and two complementary measures of prenatal PAH exposure: monitored air concentrations of PAH and a PAH-specific biomarker of exposure measured in maternal and umbilical cord blood. The paper, "Prenatal Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) Exposure and Child Behavior at age 6-7," published online today in Environmental Health Perspectives, adds to rising concerns about the risks associated with exposures to air pollution during pregnancy.
The study followed the children of 253 non‐smoking inner-city women who gave birth between 1999 and 2006. Researchers led by Frederica Perera, DrPH, director of the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health, measured two complementary indicators of PAH exposure. One indicator was the PAH concentration in air from personal air sampling which took place during the third trimester of pregnancy. The other was a specific biological marker of exposure-- PAH-DNA adducts measured in maternal blood and newborn umbilical cord blood. When inhaled by the mother during pregnancy, PAH can be transferred across the placenta and bind to the DNA of the fetus, forming "adducts" in blood and other tissues and providing a biologic measure of pollutant exposure.
Mothers completed a detailed assessment of their child's behavior (including whether the children experienced symptoms of anxiety, depression, or attention problems. High prenatal PAH exposure, whether characterized by personal air monitoring or maternal and newborn cord adducts, was significantly associated with symptoms of Anxious/Depressed and Attention Problems.
In urban air, traffic emissions are a dominant source of the pollutants measured in the study. Illustrating widespread exposure to these pollutants, 100% of the mothers in the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health NYC cohort had detectable levels of PAH in prenatal personal air samples, although levels varied widely. The authors accounted for other sources of PAH such as environmental tobacco smoke and diet in their analyses. None of the mothers in the study were smokers.
"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 author.
The study was conducted in collaboration with members of the Columbia research team including, Dr. Deliang Tang, Dr. Shuang Wang, Julia Vishnevetsky, Bingzhi Zhang, Diurka Diaz, David Camann, and Dr. Virginia Rauh.
The work was supported by funding provided by NIEHS, the EPA and private foundations.
About the Mailman School of Public Health
Founded in 1922 as one of the first three public health academies in the nation, Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting New Yorkers, the nation and the world. The Mailman School is the third largest recipient of NIH grants among schools of public health. Its 300 multi‐disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as infectious and chronic diseases, environmental health, maternal and child health, health policy, climate change & health, and public health preparedness. It is a leader in public health education with over 1,000 graduate students from more than 40 nations pursuing a variety of master's and doctoral degree programs. The Mailman School is also home to numerous worldrenowned research centers including the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP), the National Center for Disaster Preparedness and the Center for Infection and Immunity. For more information, please visit www.mailman.columbia.edu
About the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health
The Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health (CCCEH) carries out community‐based research in northern Manhattan and the South Bronx to examine the health effects of prenatal and early postnatal exposures to common urban air pollutants, with the aim of preventing environmentally related disease in children. The Center is unique in the field of scientific research because it applies the results of its research to interventions that reduce toxic pesticide use; conducts a community education campaign to increase environmental health awareness among local residents, parents, health professionals and educators; and informs public interest groups, elected officials, and other policymakers who can shape policies to improve the environmental health status of underserved neighborhoods. The Center's overall mission is to improve prevention and clinical treatment, and work with community‐based organizations to improve their neighborhood's environmental health. Our lead community partner is WE ACT for Environmental Justice.