Association between prenatal exposure to ambient diesel particulate matter and perchloroethylene with children's 3rd grade standardized test scores

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The objective of this research was to determine if prenatal exposure to two common urban air pollutants, diesel and perchloroethylene, affects children's 3rd grade standardized test scores in mathematics and English language arts (ELA). Exposure estimates consisted of annual average ambient concentrations of diesel particulate matter and perchloroethylene obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency's 1996 National Air Toxics Assessment for the residential census tract at birth. Outcome data consisted of linked birth and educational records for 201,559 singleton, non-anomalous children born between 1994 and 1998 who attended New York City public schools. Quantile regression models were used to estimate the effects of these exposures on multiple points within the continuous distribution of standardized test scores. Modified Poisson regression models were used to calculate risk ratios (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) of failing to meet curricula standards, an indicator derived from test scores. Models were adjusted for a number of maternal, neighborhood and childhood factors. Results showed that math scores were approximately 6% of a standard deviation lower for children exposed to the highest levels of both pollutants as compared to children with low levels of both pollutants. Children exposed to high levels of both pollutants also had the largest risk of failing to meet math test standards when compared to children with low levels of exposure to the pollutants (RR 1.10 95%CI 1.07,1.12 RR high perchloroethylene only 1.03 95%CI 1.00,1.06; RR high diesel PM only 1.02 95%CI 0.99,1.06). There was no association observed between exposure to the pollutants and failing to meet ELA standards. This study provides preliminary evidence of associations between prenatal exposure to urban air pollutants and lower academic outcomes. Additionally, these findings suggest that individual pollutants may additively impact health and point to the need to study the collective effects of air pollutant mixtures.

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