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Could Air Pollution Help Cause ADHD? New Research Suggests Link

Air pollution might be helping to cause growing rates of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, researchers reported on Wednesday.

A study of New York City women and their children found that kids who had the highest levels of air pollutants called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in their placenta and umbilical cord at birth were five times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD later.

The researchers followed 233 nonsmoking African-American and Dominican women and their children. They measured PAHs in the placenta and umbilical cord at birth and in the kids’s urine when they were 3 or 5 years old. The higher the PAH levels, the more likely the children were to be diagnosed with ADHD at age 9, Frederica Perera of Columbia University’s school of public health and colleagues reported.

“This study suggests that exposure to PAH encountered in New York City air may play a role in childhood ADHD,” Perera said in a statement.

PAHs are generated when carbon-based things are burned — from steaks on the grill to coal or oil burned to generate electricity. In New York, “traffic and residential heating are major local sources. There is also some contribution from coal-burning sources in states upwind,” Perera’s team reported in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 11 percent of U.S. children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and rates are going up steadily.

Study finds that few ADHD children receive therapy 0:18

IN-DEPTH

— Maggie Fox