• Air Pollution is Bad for Unborn Babies

    by Dr. Susan Sklar
    on Apr 7th, 2015

An article appeared in the Los Angeles Times last week.  It was called “Bad Air Takes Toll on Babies.”  A common pollutant called Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) causes behavior problems, cognitive (thinking ability) problems and even autism.  PAH is found in car exhaust, power plant emissions and cigarette smoke.

Two studies in the JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Psychiatry edition address the dangers of pollution exposure to developing babies.  Pregnant women carried backpacks that accumulated data about the air quality for two days during the latter part of pregnancy.  The latest study actually shows changes in the children’s brain structure at ages 7-9.  The higher the exposure to PAH, the more behavioral and developmental problems were found in these children.

For the first time, changes in the brain structure which correlate with these types of problems were found.   There was less of the white matter that normally coats the brain.  This occurred only on the left side of the brain.   The left side of the brain is the area that controls language and higher thinking skills.  White matter is the expressway of the brain.  Signals travel more quickly over white matter pathways that connect various parts of the brain.  When the brain is exposed to these toxins during development or early childhood, there is significantly increased risk of impairment.

An earlier study in JAMA Psychiatry showed that exposure to traffic-related air pollution  during pregnancy and during the first year of life was associated with autism.  These researchers had also shown an increased risk of autism if a child lived within 1000 feet of a freeway during early life.

This is truly concerning information.  We have known for many years that air pollution has been linked to respiratory and cardiac problems in adults, but what are we doing to our children?  There has been improvement in the air quality in Southern California, but much more remains to be done.  If you want to take action, I recommend joining the National Resources Defense Fund http://www.nrdc.org/about/ which educates and advocates for a safer environment.

Author Dr. Susan Sklar

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