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Study linking pollution to lower IQ stokes fears among many, not all

July 24, 2009 | 11:50 am

SmogThe conclusion of the new study is bold: "These results provide evidence that environmental PAHs [polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons] at levels encountered in New York City air can affect children's IQ adversely."

Before making this statement, Columbia University researchers had pregnant women wear air-sampling equipment and answer questionnaires. The researchers then monitored the offspring of those women through the years. The new findings are based on intelligence as measured at age 5.

Kids exposed to high levels of PAHs (found in automobile exhaust) in utero tended to have lower IQ scores -- more than 4 points -- than kids exposed to lower levels.

Here's a summary from the National Institutes of Health. A fact sheet on PAHs (they're also released by forest fires, more of an issue in California than New York). A listing from the American Lung Assn. of the nation's most-polluted regions. And the abstract of the study, published Monday in Pediatrics.

This research has been heralded with many headlines and much consternation.

But Lois Henry of the Bakersfield Californian isn't buying it. And Bakersfield, it's safe to say, is not known for its air quality.

She writes: "Oh brother. Those were my first thoughts when I read yet another study designed to scare the breath out of us, literally. This time around, it's air pollution making babies dumb in utero (that means before they're born). ...Words like "link," "may," "suggest," "associated with" and "could" make me very nervous when used in frightening studies like this one that not only cause worry over the health of our children but could, might, may, probably will, be used to create even more restrictive regulations for benefits that are at best uncertain."

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: The study was done in New York, but L.A. seems to have some air-quality problems of its own.

Credit: AP