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Traffic hydrocarbons linked to lower IQs in kids

Prenatal exposures to common air pollutants correlate with drop in intelligence scores

3:52pm, July 23, 2009

Here’s a dirty little secret about polluted urban air: It can shave almost 5 points off of a young child’s IQ, a new report suggests.

That’s no small loss, says Kimberly Gray, whose federal agency cofinanced the study, to appear in the August Pediatrics.

Normally, baseline environmental exposures to a pollutant yield at most a subtle change — one that is hard to detect and with impacts that are hard to gauge, says Gray, of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, N.C. But the new study shows that children heavily exposed in the womb to common combustion pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons had, by kindergarten age, an IQ some 4.5 points lower than that of kids with minimal fetal exposures.

“An IQ change of 4 points is not a subtle effect,” Gray says. It’s in the range of what might be triggered by exposures to high levels of lead or by fetal alcohol

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