The Link Between Dirty Air and ADHD

by | Nov 8, 2014

An article in the journal PLOS One concludes that exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) during pregnancy increases a child’s risk of childhood Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health studied the affect of prenatal PAH exposure on the development of children over nine years. PAH are toxic air pollutants generated from coal-burning power plants, traffic, residential heating, and other sources.

“Children born to mothers exposed to high levels of PAH during pregnancy had five times the odds of a higher-than-usual number and degree of symptoms that characterize ADHD—specifically inattentive-type ADHD at age 9—compared with children whose mothers did not have high PAH exposure.”

The research team followed the children of nonsmoking African-American and Dominican women from in utero through age nine. They estimated prenatal-PAH exposure based on birth maternal collected at delivery.

The article points out that “urban, minority populations in the U.S. often have disproportionate exposure to air pollution and are at greater risk for adverse health and developmental outcomes from this exposure.”

The study’s lead author, Frederica P. Perera, PhD, DrPH, said in a statement, “The findings are concerning because attention problems are known to impact school performance, social relationships, and occupational performance.”

We have known for a while that dirty air has significant impacts on lung and heart function. Now, the science is continuing to connect breathing dirty air to neurological and behavioral disorders. In other words, air pollution isn’t just a lung problem or a heart problem. It’s a whole body problem.

This research underscores why everyone deserves clean, healthy air to breathe.

About Michael Hansen
Michael is Executive Director of GASP. He joined the team in 2013 as communications specialist. He has years of experience and extensive training in the areas of public health and environmental protection. He is a member of the board of directors for the Southeast Climate & Energy Network and Clean Water Fund, as well as a member of the Arm in Arm National Core Support Team. Email Michael
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