Jun 17

2013

Link between air pollution and learning disabilities

News and analysis by Dan Telvock, Investigative Post's environmental reporter

Researchers have found a link between traffic-related air pollution and more attention deficits in young boys in Boston.

The researchers from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in Manhattan said this is the first time that an association is made between black carbon exposure and decreasing attention skills among low-income, urban children. The study found boys were more susceptible than girls. Black carbon is an indicator of combustion sources such as diesel and has a wide range of public health impacts.

The researchers made the association after adjusting for numerous factors, including IQ, blood-lead levels, stress and tobacco exposure.

“Inattention and hyperactivity are highly and disproportionately prevalent among school-aged urban youth, particularly among minorities, and have a negative impact on academic achievement. Thus, understanding environmental risk factors that are amenable to intervention and prevention strategies is critical,” the study team wrote in the paper published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Black carbon is one of the airborne pollutants that is part of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s monitoring program at the Peace Bridge.

Researchers took 24-hour measurements from 82 monitoring locations in the Greater Boston area. They used more than 6,000 readings to estimate how much black carbon the 174 children were exposed to over their life. These same children took attention tests between the ages of 7 and 14.

The entire study can be found here.

Local scientists said the black carbon measurements used in this study were not real-time exposures so they can’t be compared to the results measured at the Peace Bridge. What can be inferred from this study is that children who are exposed to black carbon may develop learning disabilities as a result.

“But the study is useful because it does show an association between increased black carbon exposure and attention deficit,” said William Scheider, research assistant professor at University at Buffalo.