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Prenatal Exposure to Hydrocarbons May Affect IQ

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from air pollution adversely affect IQ scores

MONDAY, July 20 (HealthDay News) -- Prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons adversely affects children's later intelligence, according to a study published online July 20 in Pediatrics.

Frederica P. Perera, of Columbia University in New York City, and colleagues conducted a study of 249 children whose mothers were nonsmokers, African-American or Dominican-American, and living in New York City. The children were monitored for prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and their intelligence was assessed when they were 5 years old.

Exposure to high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons was inversely associated with full-scale IQ and verbal IQ scores, with the high-exposure children scoring 4.31 and 4.67 points lower, respectively, compared to their counterparts with lower exposure, the investigators found. The results still applied when potential confounders such as maternal intelligence, environmental tobacco smoke exposure, and quality of home caretaking environment were taken into account.

"The results require confirmation but are of potential concern, because IQ is an important predictor of subsequent academic performance," the authors write. "Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are widespread in urban environments throughout the world, largely as a result of fossil fuel combustion. Fortunately, airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon concentrations can be reduced through currently available pollution controls, greater energy efficiency, use of alternative energy sources, and regulatory intervention to remove polluting sources."

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