Our prospective cohort study of nonsmoking African-American and Dominican mothers and children in New York City is evaluating the role of prenatal exposure to urban pollutants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) , environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) , and pesticides, in the pathogenesis of neurobehavioral disorders. We used the Bayley Scales of Infant Development to evaluate the effects on child mental and psychomotor development of prenatal exposure to airborne PAHs monitored during pregnancy by personal air sampling. Behavioral development was assessed by the Child Behavior Checklist. We adjusted for potential confounders including sociodemographic factors and prenatal exposure to ETS and chlorpyrifos. Prenatal exposure to PAHs was not associated with psychomotor development index or behavioral problems. However, high prenatal exposure to PAHs (upper quartile) was associated with lower mental development index at age 3 [beta=-5.69; 95% confidence interval (CI), -9.05 to -2.33; p<0.01]. The odds of cognitive developmental delay were also significantly greater for children with high prenatal exposure (odds ratio=2.89; 95% CI, 1.33 to 6.25; p=0.01). General estimated equation analysis showed a significant age times PAH effect on mental development (p=0.01), confirming the age-specific regression findings. Further adjustment for lead did not alter the relationships. There were no differences in effect sizes by ethnicity. The results require confirmation but suggest that environmental PAHs at levels recently encountered in New York City air may adversely affect children's cognitive development at 3 years of age, with implications for school performance.