exposure to common pollutants

A recent study in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry reports that mothers exposed to common pollutants while pregnant could give birth to children with dysfunctional self-regulating behaviours and poor social competency.


Exposure to pollution in the air may have serious and detrimental effects on a child, according to a new study in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Researchers have discovered that prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) while pregnant could predispose their children to problems with properly managing their thoughts, emotions and behaviours later in life.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s) are organic compounds normally found in fossil fuels. They are common in the environment and are the result of emissions from motor vehicles, oil and coal burning for home heating or power generation, tobacco smoke, or other combustion sources.

Researchers examined 462 mother-child pairs to see if there was any association between prenatal PAH exposure during pregnancy and child behaviour. Blood samples were collected from the mothers to determine their level of PAH exposure, and children were administered standardized tests to examine their self-regulation behaviours at ages 3-5, 7, 9, and 11. Researchers observed that children whose mothers had higher levels of PAH exposure during pregnancy had lower self-regulation capacities (at age 9), and had poor social competencies later in life (specifically at age 11) in comparison with children whose mothers had no exposure to PAH. High-exposure children failed to improve in their ability to self-regulate as they got older and did not follow a typical developmental pattern for self-regulation. As a result, they were more likely to be impulsive, aggressive, and unable to empathize or get along with others.

Self-regulation is an important trait that many neurodevelopmental scientists are focusing on, especially to predict a child’s social development. Self-regulation describes a child’s ability to stay calmly focused alert, and exhibit self control. Self-regulation can predict social competence, which describes a child`s social, emotional, cognitive and behavioural skills needed for successful social adaption.

These results show that prenatal exposure to common pollutants during pregnancy can have long-term effects in children. High levels of prenatal PAH exposure can cause children to have social impairments. As well, the results show that higher levels of self-regulation are strongly associated with higher levels of social competence over the course of a child’s development, and self-regulation can be used as a predictor of social competency later in life.

These results are concurrent with other studies which report that prenatal PAH exposure is linked to ADHD, symptoms of anxiety, depression and inattention, and behavioural disorders.





Written by Alexandra Lostun, BSc

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