Image courtesy of Brown County, Indiana

Kids living near major roads at higher risk of developmental delays, NIH study suggests

News Release, National Institutes of Health

Young children who live close to a major roadway are twice as likely to score lower on tests of communications skills, compared to those who live farther away from a major roadway, according to an analysis by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and the University of California, Merced. Moreover, children born to women exposed during pregnancy to higher-than-normal levels of traffic-related pollutants — ultra-fine airborne particles and ozone — had a small but significantly higher likelihood of developmental delays during infancy and early childhood. The study appears in Environmental Research.

“Our results suggest that it may be prudent to minimize exposure to air pollution during pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood—all key periods for brain development,” said Pauline Mendola, Ph.D., an investigator in the Division of Intramural Population Health Research at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the study’s senior author.

Previous studies have linked exposure to common air pollutants in pregnancy to low birth weight, preterm birth, and stillbirth. A few studies have found a higher risk of autism and of lower cognitive functioning in children living near freeways, but results of studies about how prenatal and early childhood exposure to air pollution might affect development have been inconsistent.

Given that a large proportion of the U.S. population lives close to major roadways, which are major sources of air pollution, the researchers sought to determine if living near heavily traveled roads was linked to lower scores on developmental screens(link is external) — questionnaires or checklists that indicate whether a child is developing normally or needs to be referred to a specialist for further testing.

The researchers analyzed data from the Upstate KIDS Study. They matched the addresses of 5,825 study participants to a roadway data set, calculating the distance of each address to the nearest major roadway. For each participant, they matched the home address, mother’s work address during pregnancy, and address of the child’s daycare location to an Environmental Protection Agency data set(link is external) for estimating air pollution levels. From 8 months to 36 months of age, the children were screened every four to six months with the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, a validated screening measure evaluating five domains of child development: fine motor skills, large motor skills, communication, personal-social functioning, and problem-solving ability.

Compared to children living more than half a mile from a major roadway, children living from roughly 164 feet to .3 miles from a major roadway were twice as likely to have failed at least one screen of the communications domain.

The researchers also estimated exposures to ozone(link is external) and fine inhalable particles (PM2.5(link is external)), two pollutants produced by car traffic. Fine inhalable particles are 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair, can pass through the lungs’ defenses, and are absorbed directly into the bloodstream.

Prenatal exposure to elevated PM2.5 led to a 1.6 to 2.7% higher risk of failing any developmental domain, while higher ozone exposure led to a .7 to 1.7% higher risk of failing a developmental domain. In contrast, higher postnatal exposure to ozone was linked to a 3.3% higher risk of failing most domains of the developmental screen at 8 months, a 17.7% higher risk of overall screening failure at 24 months, and a 7.6% higher risk of overall screening failure at 30 months.

These results led the researchers to conclude that early childhood exposure to air pollutants may convey a higher risk for developmental delays, compared to similar exposures in the womb. The study is associational and so cannot prove cause and effect. The authors noted that larger studies are necessary to confirm these links.

“It is not clear why exposure to pollutants after birth is linked to a higher risk of developmental delay,” said Sandie Ha, Ph.D., of the Department of Public Health at the University of California, Merced, and lead author of the study. “However, unlike exposure during pregnancy, exposure during childhood is more direct and does not go through a pregnant woman’s defenses.”

The Southern Maryland Chronicle is a local, small business entrusted to provide factual, unbiased reporting to the Southern Maryland Community. While we look to local businesses for advertising, we hope to keep that cost as low as possible in order to attract even the smallest of local businesses and help them get out to the public. We must also be able to pay employees(part-time and full-time), along with equipment, and website related things. We never want to make the Chronicle a “pay-wall” style news site.

To that end, we are looking to the community to offer donations. Whether it’s a one-time donation or you set up a reoccurring monthly donation. It is all appreciated. All donations at this time will be going to furthering the Chronicle through hiring individuals that have the same goals of providing fair, and unbiased news to the community. For now, donations will be going to a business PayPal account I have set-up for the Southern Maryland Chronicle, KDC Designs. All business transactions currently occur within this PayPal account. If you have any questions regarding this you can email me at davidhiggins@southernmarylandchronicle.com

Thank you for all of your support and I hope to continue bringing Southern Maryland the best news possible for a very long time. — David M. Higgins II




© 2019 The Southern Maryland Chronicle. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.