Prenatal exposure to common air pollutants linked to cognitive and behavioral impairment

Neurotoxic PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) are ubiquitous in
the environment, in the home and in the workplace. Emissions from motor
vehicles, oil and coal burning for home heating or power generation,
wildfires and agricultural burning, hazardous waste sites, tobacco smoke
and charred foods are all sources of exposure. PAH readily crosses the
placenta and affects an unborn child's brain; earlier animal studies
showed that prenatal exposure impaired the development of behavior,
learning and memory.

Scientists led by Bradley S. Peterson, MD, director of the Institute
for the Developing Mind at The Saban Research Institute of CHLA, along
with Virginia Rauh, ScD, and Frederica Perera, DrPH, PhD, from Columbia
University's Mailman School of Public Health, conducted a study of
minority youth to test the effects on brain structure of PAH exposure
during the final trimester of pregnancy. They used magnetic resonance
imaging (MRI) to measure the brains of 40 children from a cohort of more
than 600 mother-baby pairs from minority communities in New York City.
The Columbia researchers had previously reported that exposure to
airborne PAH during gestation in this cohort was associated with
multiple neurodevelopmental disturbances, including development delay by
age 3, reduced verbal IQ at age 5, and symptoms of anxiety and
depression at age 7.

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