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Environ Int. 2013 Sep;59:225-31. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2013.06.014. Epub 2013 Jul 9.

Prenatal exposure to environmental contaminants and behavioural problems at age 7-8years.

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Department of Public Health, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium; Research Foundation - Flanders, Brussels, Belgium.


Animal studies showed that the developing brain is particularly sensitive to chemical exposure. Human studies carried out in areas with high exposures have proven neurodevelopmental disorders in relation to e.g. lead and PCBs. Whether these chemicals are associated with behavioural problems in childhood at current environmental levels is not well known. Therefore, we assessed the association between prenatal exposure to lead, cadmium, PCBs, dioxin-like compounds, HCB and p,p'-DDE and behavioural problems in 7-8year old children. Prenatal exposure data were obtained from the Flemish mother-new-born cohort. Lead, cadmium, PCBs, dioxin-like compounds, HCB and p,p'-DDE were analysed in cord blood. When the child reached 7-8years, 270 mothers completed the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire assessing their children's behavioural health. We found that doubling the prenatal lead exposure (cord blood lead levels) was associated with a 3.43 times higher risk for hyperactivity in both boys and girls. In addition, total difficulties were 5.08 times more likely in the highest tertile for prenatal lead exposure compared to the lowest tertile. In girls, total difficulties were 4.92 more likely when doubling cord blood p,p'-DDE, whereas no significant association was found in boys. Further, we noted in boys a 1.53 times higher risk for emotional problems when doubling cord blood cadmium, whereas no significant association was found in girls. These results indicate that the presence of environmental contaminants influences the mental health of the next generation.


ADHD; AhR; BMI; Cd; Child behaviour; DDT; DF; Dioxin-like compounds; FLEHS; Flemish Environment and Health Study; GC-MS; HCB; HR-ICP-MS; Heavy metals; High Resolution Inductively Coupled Mass Spectrometry; IQR; LOD; LOQ; OR; PCB; SDQ; aryl hydrocarbon receptor; attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder; body mass index; cadmium; dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane; dilution-factor; gas chromatography with mass spectrometric detector; hexachlorobenzene; interquartile range; limit of detection; limit of quantification; odds ratio; p,p′-DDE; para,para-dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene; polychlorinated biphenyls; strengths and difficulties questionnaire

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