Columbia study: Air pollution can lead to ADHD in kids

A study at Columbia University indicates that children who were exposed to high levels of air pollution from vehicles while they were in the womb were five times more likely to develop symptoms associated with attention-deficit disorder later in life.

As Scientific American reports:

The study adds to earlier evidence that mothers’ exposures to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are emitted by the burning of fossil fuels and other organic materials, are linked to children’s behavioral problems associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

About 10 percent of U.S. children are diagnosed with ADHD, which can impair classroom performance, as well as lead to “risky behaviors and lower earnings in adulthood,” the Columbia researchers wrote.

The study, led by Frederica Perera, an environmental health scientist at the school’s Mailman School of Public Health, looked at the children of 233 African-American and Dominican women in New York City.

More from SciAmerican:

They measured the amount of benzo[a]pyrene bound to DNA – a biological marker for PAHs – in the mothers’ blood at the time of birth. Forty-two percent had detectable levels in their blood.

When the children were about 9 years old, parents filled out a questionnaire commonly used to screen for ADHD behavior problems. The researchers found that children whose mothers had the highest amounts of the PAH at the time of birth were five times more likely to show more behaviors associated with inattention than children whose mothers had the lowest levels. They were three times more likely to exhibit more total behaviors (inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity) associated with ADHD.

Read more on the Columbia website.