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Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Jun;120(6):904-9. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1104372. Epub 2012 Feb 22.

Neuropsychological measures of attention and impulse control among 8-year-old children exposed prenatally to organochlorines.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Health, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts 02118, USA.



We previously reported associations between organochlorines and behaviors related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder among boys and girls at 8 years of age using a teacher's rating scale for a birth cohort in New Bedford, Massachusetts (USA).


Our goal was to corroborate these findings using neuropsychological measures of inattentive and impulsive behaviors.


We investigated the association between cord serum polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and p,p'-dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethylene (p,p'-DDE) and attention and impulse control using a Continuous Performance Test (CPT) and components of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, 3rd edition (WISC-III). Participants came from a prospective cohort of children born during 1993-1998 to mothers residing near a PCB-contaminated harbor in New Bedford. Median (range) cord serum levels for the sum of four prevalent PCBs [congeners 118, 138, 153, and 180 (ΣPCB4)] and p,p'-DDE were 0.19 (0.01-2.59) and 0.31 (0-14.93) ng/g serum, respectively.


We detected associations between PCBs and neuropsychological deficits for 578 and 584 children with CPT and WISC-III measures, respectively, but only among boys. For example, boys with higher exposure to ΣPCB4 had a higher rate of CPT errors of omission [rate ratio for the exposure interquartile range (IQR) = 1.12; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.98, 1.27] and slower WISC-III Processing Speed (change in score for the IQR = -2.0; 95% CI: -3.5, -0.4). Weaker associations were found for p,p'-DDE. For girls, associations were in the opposite direction for the CPT and null for the WISC-III.


These results support an association between organochlorines (mainly PCBs) and neuropsychological measures of attention among boys only. Sex-specific effects should be considered in studies of organochlorines and neurodevelopment.

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