ADHD More Severe in Children Exposed to Pollution and Economic Deprivation


A new study, published in Environmental Research, found that prenatal exposure to environmental pollutants, and prenatal and childhood economic hardship, was associated with increased severity of ADHD in children. ADHD behaviors were linked to the presence of both high levels of pollutants and persistent economic deprivation at birth and through childhood.

According to the researchers, “The co-occurrence of environmental pollutants […] with adverse social conditions leads to more neurotoxic effects than either individually.”

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The research was led by Frederica Perera and Julie Herbstman at Columbia University, who have found similar results in previous studies as well.

“Economic deprivation and related stress early in life are known risk factors for behavioral problems in children,” the researchers write. But “exposure to PAH is disproportionately high in low-income communities of color who also experience chronic economic stress.”

Thus, in the current study, the researchers wanted to determine if exposure to neurotoxic and carcinogenic pollutants might interact with economic hardship to create even worse childhood outcomes.

The researchers explain that PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) are a class of air pollutants, common in urban environments, that are known to be hazardous and neurotoxic.

“Low-income communities tend to be disproportionately exposed due to the more frequent siting in those communities of highly trafficked roadways, depots for buses and trucks, fossil fuel generating power plants and industrial boilers.”

Participants were recruited from the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) cohort study. The sample consisted of 351 children with the ADHD diagnosis, born of African-American and Dominican mothers, recruited in New York City between 1998 and 2006. The mothers were nonsmokers, to control for the effects cigarette smoke might have on childhood development.

The researchers measured levels of PAH in maternal blood at delivery to determine their levels of exposure to environmental toxins. Economic deprivation was defined as lack of adequate food, housing, utilities, and clothing, and was measured both at birth and for the first 9 years of childhood.

The researchers found that children of mothers with high PAH levels, who also experienced persistent economic hardship, had the most severe ADHD symptoms, as measured by scores on the ADHD Index, DSM-IV Inattentive, DSM-IV Hyperactive-Impulsive problems, and DSM-IV Index Total.

Additionally, both exposures to environmental pollution and economic hardship were associated with ADHD severity, individually. However, the researchers state that the interaction of the two “appears to be greater than the sum of their separate effects, suggesting that the effect is greater than additive.”

The researchers suggest that policies “combine economic assistance for women in need of material support with policy interventions to reduce air pollution exposure in urban areas, especially in low-income communities of color. Concentrations of PAH can be reduced using currently available pollution controls, greater energy efficiency, alternative energy sources, and regulatory intervention to control or remove highly polluting sources.”



Perera, F. P., Wheelock, K., Wang, Y., Tang, D., Margolis, A. E., Badia, G. . . . Herbstman, J. B. (2018). Combined effects of prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and material hardship on child ADHD behavior problems. Environmental Research, 160, 506-513. (Link)


  1. All of this would presume that those in power actually CARE about the impact of poverty and toxic waste. They are forgetting that ADHD and similar “disorders” were invented so we don’t have to think about such things and can instead blame the victims.

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  2. In other words, a lot of poor and destitute people are being subjected to the false diagnoses and abuses of psychiatry. Psychiatry preys upon all people, but particularly upon the poor and the vulnerable members of society. The fictitious disease “ADHD” is used to oppress the poor. Long ago, the prophet Isaiah prophesied:

    “Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed;

    To turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!

    And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from far? to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory?” (Isaiah 10:1-3)

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    • I appreciate your quote from Isaiah. I used to spend a lot of time in Christian churches, of different denominations. What I’ve come to realize is that I never heard any sermons on things like this. I find that rather strange since Jesus, the very person that Christians say that they follow, seemed to have a preference for the oppressed and the poor. Thanks again for the scripture.

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  3. Stephen Gilbert March 1, 2018 at 9:49 am

    I was a teacher in a large boy’s school at the end of the 1980’s. One week I was assigned to duty in the large room that students used for study during their off period. The restroom had a large entrance into this room and didn’t have a door on it because of the way the bathroom was constructed and I guess because it was all boys. One morning I had a very unusual and unnerving experience. I was talking quietly with a student who’d asked me a question when all of a sudden there was a humongous boom followed by a huge cloud of dust that came billowing out into the large room.

    Come to find out, a ninth grader who was upset because upper classmen were bullying him went to a sophomore whom he knew, who went to his father, who gave his son a half stick of dynamite to sell to the ninth grader. I am not kidding you, you can’t make this kind of stuff up. A parent gave his son a half stick of dynamite to sell to another student!!!! The ninth grader took his half stick of dynamite and blew a commode out of the floor in the bathroom. It blew a hole down through the cement floor! There were three hundred students out in the resource room at the time and we were very lucky that the ninth grader decided to only blow a commode up. This was right before the school mass shootings began, along with the advent of this fake ADHD crap and the SSRI’s that they started giving kids. I often wonder now if that ninth grader was drugged with any of these drugs? These days the student would throw it out into the room with the 300 kids

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