Air pollution is not just a problem for lungs. Increasingly, research suggests air pollution can influence childhood behavioral problems and even IQ. A new study led by UW Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences (DEOHS) researchers has added evidence showing that both prenatal and postnatal exposure to air pollution can harm kids.
The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, found that children whose mothers experienced higher nitrogen dioxide (NO2) exposure during pregnancy, particularly in the first and second trimester, were more likely to have behavioral problems.
Researchers also reported that higher exposures to small-particle air pollution (PM2.5) when children were 2 to 4 years old was associated with poorer child behavioral functioning and cognitive performance.
“Even in cities like Seattle or San Francisco, which have a lot of traffic but where the pollution levels are still relatively low, we found that children with higher prenatal NO2 exposure had more behavioral problems, especially with NO2 exposure in the first and second trimester,” said Yu Ni, lead author and a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences.
Investigating the effects of air pollution on health
The study involved data gathered from 1,967 mothers recruited during pregnancy from six cities: Memphis, Tennessee; Minneapolis; Rochester, NY; San Francisco; and two in Washington, Seattle and Yakima. Originally, these participants were enrolled as part of three separate studies: CANDLE, GAPPS and TIDES. The three studies have been combined under a major NIH initiative called ECHO, which brings together multiple pregnancy cohorts to address key child health concerns. These three combined cohorts are known as the ECHO PATHWAYS consortium.
“This study reinforces the unique vulnerability of children to air pollution — both in fetal life where major organ development and function occurs as well as into childhood when those processes continue. These early life perturbations can have lasting impacts on lifelong brain function. This study underscores the importance of air pollution as a preventable risk factor for healthy child neurodevelopment,” said senior author Dr. Catherine Karr, a professor in the UW School of Public Health and School of Medicine.
“We hope the evidence from this study will contribute to informed policymaking in the future,” Ni said. “In terms of reducing air pollution, the US has gone a long way under the Clean Air Act, but there are threats to continued improvement in the nation’s air quality. The evidence suggests there is reason to bring the level of air pollution down even further as we better understand the vulnerability of pregnant women and children.”
Adapted from the full release here.
Co-authors include Christine Loftus, Michael Young and Marnie Hazlehurst, UW DEOHS; Sheela Sathyanarayana, UW School of Public Health and School of Medicine; Adam Szpiro, UW Department of Biostatistics; Laura Murphy, Frances Tylavsky and W. Alex Mason, University of Tennessee; Kaja LeWinn and Nicole Bush, University of California San Francisco; and Emily Barrett, Rutgers University. This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health through the ECHO-PATHWAYS consortium.