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Children born to mothers in polluted areas have lower IQs

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Children born to mothers who live in polluted areas may grow up to be less intelligent, a study suggests.

Research has found being exposed to tiny particles of air pollution while in the womb could affect brain development so much it dents a child’s Intelligent Quotient (IQ).

Toxic particles may be able to travel through the placenta and cause direct brain damage, or stop the placenta working properly, scientists suggest.

Toddlers living in highly polluted areas were found to have an IQ an average of 2.5 points lower – and up to 6.8 points down – by the time they were four than those living in the least polluted.

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The findings add to growing concerns about the serious damage pollution, which in this case didn’t come from cars but from industrial works, is doing to our health.

The same study also found that folic acid, which is recommended for pregnant women anyway, may protect against this brain damage.

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, United States (U.S.), looked at data from 1,005 children in Shelby County in Tennessee.

They compared the children’s IQs, as measured in an ongoing study of child development, with estimates of pollution around their homes.

PM10 particulate matter was the focus of the study – these are lumps of air pollution which are so small that seven side-by-side would be the same width as a human hair.

PM10 particles are easily inhaled and become lodged inside the body. They may come from car and lorry exhausts, building sites, road dust and factories.

The research was published in the journal Environmental Research – the scientists said more studies need to be done to confirm its findings.

“We found that children… exposed to higher ambient PM10 in utero had lower IQ in early childhood,” wrote the researchers, led by Dr. Christine Loftus.

The researchers found, however, that being close to roads did not have the same effect on the IQ, suggesting the pollution was coming from elsewhere.

“We observed no evidence that IQ is associated with… prenatal exposure to traffic-related air pollution,” they wrote in the paper. PM10 is not correlated with NO2 and road proximity in this region, likely a reflection of numerous PM sources not related to roadway.”


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