Researchers in Chicago have unveiled research that for the first time links air pollution exposure before birth to lower IQ scores later in life. This data is expected to bolster the theory that air pollution, such as smog damages the developing brain in unborn children.
The study, which has been undertaken over the last five years, began when 249 pregnant New York women were given back-pack air monitors to wear for 48 hours during their last few months of pregnancy. The women all lived in mostly low-income neighbourhoods, such as northern Manhattan and the South Bronx, and were exposed to various levels to typical air pollution such as road traffic exhaust fumes.
Five years later, just before starting school, their children were given IQ tests. The report indicates that those exposed to high levels of pollution before birth scored, on average, four to five points less than those with less exposure.
A total of 140 study children, 56 percent, were in the high exposure group. The researchers took into account other factors that could influence IQ, such as secondhand smoke exposure, the home learning environment and air pollution exposure after birth, but still found a strong influence from prenatal exposure.
According to Frederica Perera, the studies lead author and director of the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health, prenatal exposure to air pollution could increase risks for cancer; smaller newborn head size and reduced birth weight. The researchers studied pollutants that can cross the placenta and are known scientifically as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The main contributors of such pollutants are vehicle exhausts and factory emissions. Tobacco smoke is another source, but all the mothers used in the study were non-smokers.
Speaking to the Huffington Post, Dr. Michael Msall, a University of Chicago pediatrician not involved in the research, said the study doesn't mean that children living in congested cities "aren't going to learn to read and write and spell, but it does suggest that you don't have to live right next door to a belching factory to face pollution health risks, and that there may be more dangers from typical urban air pollution than previously thought."
The study is featured in the August edition of Pediatrics.
Currently, the United States of America produces the highest levels of air pollution in the world, contributing 25.2 percent of the world's annual carbon dioxide emissions.
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