Neighborhood Social Context and Individual Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Exposures Associated with Child Cognitive Test Scores

Childhood cognitive and test-taking abilities have long-term implications for educational achievement and health, and may be influenced by household environmental exposures and neighborhood contexts. This study evaluates whether age 5 scores on the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-Revised (WPPSI-R, administered in English) are associated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) exposure and neighborhood context variables including poverty, low educational attainment, low English language proficiency, and inadequate plumbing. The Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health enrolled African-American and Dominican-American New York City women during pregnancy, and conducted follow-up for subsequent childhood health outcomes including cognitive test scores. Individual outcomes were linked to data characterizing 1-km network buffers around prenatal addresses, home observations, interviews, and prenatal PAH exposure data from personal air monitors. Prenatal PAH exposure above the median predicted 3.5 point lower total WPPSI-R scores and 3.9 point lower verbal scores; the association was similar in magnitude across models with adjustments for neighborhood characteristics. Neighborhood-level low English proficiency was independently associated with 2.3 point lower mean total WPPSI-R score, 1.2 point lower verbal score, and 2.7 point lower performance score per standard deviation. Low neighborhood-level educational attainment was also associated with 2.0 point lower performance scores. In models examining effect modification, neighborhood associations were similar or diminished among the high PAH exposure group, as compared with the low PAH exposure group. Early life exposure to personal PAH exposure or selected neighborhood-level social contexts may predict lower cognitive test scores. However, these results may reflect limited geographic exposure variation and limited generalizability.

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