A recent study in the journal Biological Psychiatry has found that mothers exposed to air pollution during pregnancy have children at higher risk of cognitive health problems, due to brain alteration during fetal development. Such abnormalities resulted in issues such as impulse control and behavioral problems. Researchers believe that long-term impacts could include high-risk activity, such as addiction, as well as mental health disorders and low academic achievement.
Previous research has associated high levels of pollution with poor development in the womb, but this study found that these risks occur even when pregnant mothers were living in places with air pollution levels deemed acceptable. This raises questions of whether our air quality measurement standards are adequate and accurate.
Researchers compare this troubling finding with the field’s existing knowledge of the dangers of smoking during pregnancy – Dr. John Krystal, editor of the journal that published the study, draws the parallel that both scenarios involve “inhaling toxins.” We already know that other environmental factors (like stress, lead exposure, and pesticides) can lead to adverse outcomes during pregnancy, but it seems that regulatory policies for some environmental risks fall short of others. Translating research findings to the public – and focusing on productive solutions instead of instilling fear in those with no choice of residence – are key roles for public health moving forward.