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QUESTION: Pre-natal & early childhood exposure to PAH is on a par with exposure to lead re: IQ loss? 22/08/09 New South Wales, Australia

Just wondered if you had seen this article:

The article indicates that exposure to PAH is on a par with exposure to lead.

Children were assigned to the high PAH group if measured PAH levels in the mother's home during the 3rd trimester of gestation was greater than 2.36 ng/m3. This level of exposure was associated with a mean reduction of about 5 points on several measures of IQ.

The sad fact is that measured PAH levels in Australia in winter are considerably higher than this - 8.62 in Armidale (max 24), compared to 0.28 summer and 4.47 in Sydney (max 17.5), compared to 0.62 in summer - see is the Lead Group interested in other toxic chemicals that reduce children's IQ, or just lead?

If the former, please contact me for more info.

Thanks and kind regards,

Dr Dorothy L Robinson,

Armidale Air Quality Group

Prenatal Airborne Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Exposure and Child IQ at Age 5 Years In the August 2009 issue of Pediatrics there is a study showing that some forms of air pollution can adversely affect a child's IQ if they are exposed early and often enough.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a group of pollutants that are produced and released into the environment as a by-product of burning fossil fuels, tobacco, and other such substances. These substances are known to cause cancer (carcinogenic), genetic mutations (mutagenic), and birth defects (teratogenic). Newborns and fetuses children are thought to be especially susceptible to this form of pollution.

This study looked at the relationship between prenatal/early postnatal exposure to airborne PAHs and intelligence in a group of children in New York City.

To that end, a group of pregnant women was recruited from select area of New York City between 1998 and 2003. These women were between 18 to 23 years old, non-smokers, non-drug users, and in good health.

To measure prenatal exposure to PAHs the air quality in the women's home environment was sampled during the third trimester of the pregnancy. The air was analyzed to determine the level of PAHs - the range of values was from 0.49 ng/m3 to 34.48 ng/m3 with the mean being 2.26 ng/m3.

Since the level of air pollution in New York City is stable and does not vary seasonally this level of exposure was used as the exposure of the children to PAHs during early childhood as well.

When the children reached their fifth birthday, they were given the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-Revised (WPPSI-R) to determine their IQ.

There were 249 children still participating in the study at age 5 who had enough data to be included in the results. The children were split into a low and high exposure group based on their mother's PAH exposure while pregnant. There were 140 children in the high exposure group (PAHs over 2.26 ng/m3) and 109 children in the low exposure group.

The data was adjusted for the mother's intelligence, the quality of the home environment, other exposures to PAHs (i.e. second hand smoke, dietary sources), as well as other factors.

The results indicate that the children in the high exposure group scored about 5 points lower on average on several measures

ANSWER: Aug 22 2009

Hi Dorothy,

thanks very much for thinking of us and for sending the article on IQ-impacts of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) from burning fossil fuels, tobacco, and other such substances.

We have an undying interest in all things to do with lead so if PAHs impact on the developing brain in the same way as lead does, then that is of interest. The head of our Technical Advisory Board, Professor Brian Gulson, has for instance written a paper asking for epidemiologists to ensure that they have accounted for pesticide exposure before assigning all the health impacts that can be caused by either lead or pesticides (or a combination of the two), to the lead exposure.

I'd be very grateful if you could send me the full paper as our internet is down at the moment, but I would like to add it to our library.

Thanks again

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien

Update 2013: Prenatal Airborne Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Exposure and Child IQ at Age 5 Years Frederica P. Perera, Dr PH, Zhigang Li, MPS, Robin Whyatt, Dr PH, Lori Hoepner, MPH, Shuang Wang, PhD, David Camann, MS, Virginia Rauh, ScD. Pediatrics 2009;124;e195; originally published online July 20, 2009;

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