(HealthDay News) — Exposure to high levels of air pollution during pregnancy sharply increases the risk of having children who develop behavior problems related to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a study published online in PLOS ONE.

The study included 233 nonsmoking pregnant women from New York City, and their children. The researchers tested polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) exposure by looking for the chemicals both in the mothers’ blood and blood from the umbilical cords. The investigators later tested each child’s behavior by having parents fill out questionnaires aimed at detecting ADHD symptoms.

The researchers found that children born to mothers exposed to high levels of PAH during pregnancy had five times the odds of developing many and more severe ADHD symptoms, compared with mothers with little to no exposure.

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“Air pollution is one of those exposures that’s involuntary, and outdoor air pollution doesn’t just stay outside the home. It penetrates into the indoor environment,” lead author Frederica Perera, DrPH, PhD, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, told HealthDay

Regulators can play an active role in reducing levels of PAHs in the air, she said. She also noted that New York City has dramatically reduced its air pollution by getting rid of diesel buses, passing anti-idling laws for diesel buses and trucks, and phasing out the dirtiest home heating oils burned in household furnaces. “There is some progress in cleaning up the air in the United States, but we have a way to go,” she added.


  1. Perera FP et al. PloS One. 2014; doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0111670.