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Extramural Research

Prenatal Exposure to Combustion-Related Pollutants Linked to Symptoms of Anxiety, Depression, and Attention Problems in Young Children

Pregnant woman with Personal Air Sampling device
STAR researchers at  the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health have published results which associate prenatal exposure to air pollutants called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) with  behavioral problems in children.

PAHs  are released to air during incomplete combustion of fossil fuel such as diesel, gasoline, coal, and other organic material.  When inhaled by the mother during pregnancy, PAHs can be transferred across the placenta.

The study followed the children of 253 non-smoking inner-city women who gave birth between 1999 and 2006. Researchers led by Dr Frederica Perera,  director of the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health, measured two  indicators of PAH exposure:  the PAH concentration in air from personal air sampling which took place during the third trimester of pregnancy; and “PAH-DNA adducts” measured in maternal blood and newborn umbilical cord blood.  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, was significantly associated with symptoms of anxiety, depression,  and attention problems.

In urban air, traffic emissions and burning of home heating oil were the dominant sources of the pollutants measured in the study.  Perera said that "This study provides evidence that environmental levels of PAH encountered in NYC air can adversely affect child behavior ” and  “the results are of concern because attention problems and anxiety and depression have been shown to affect peer relationships and academic performance."

For more information on this “Ahead of Print” publication from Environmental Health Perspectives see: Prenatal Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) Exposure and Child Behavior at age 6-7

For more information on this research project see: The Role of Endocrine Disruptors in Neurodevelopmental Disorders

For more information on the Children’s Environmental Health Research Centers see: EPA/NIEHS Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers (CEHCs)

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