Association of traffic-related air pollution with children's neurobehavioral functions in Quanzhou, China

Environ Health Perspect. 2009 Oct;117(10):1612-8. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0800023. Epub 2009 May 11.


Background: With the increase of motor vehicles, ambient air pollution related to traffic exhaust has become an important environmental issue in China. Because of their fast growth and development, children are more susceptible to ambient air pollution exposure. Many chemicals from traffic exhaust, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and lead, have been reported to show adverse effects on neurobehavioral functions. Several studies in China have suggested that traffic exhaust might affect neurobehavioral functions of adults who have occupational traffic exhaust exposure. However, few data have been reported on the effects on neurobehavioral function in children.

Objectives: The objective of this study was to explore the association between traffic-related air pollution exposure and its effects on neurobehavioral function in children.

Methods: This field study was conducted in Quanzhou, China, where two primary schools were chosen based on traffic density and monitoring data of ambient air pollutants. School A was located in a clear area and school B in a polluted area. We monitored NO(2) and particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter < or = 10 mum as indicators for traffic-related air pollution on the campuses and in classrooms for 2 consecutive days in May 2005. The children from second grade (8-9 years of age) and third grade (9-10 years of age) of the two schools (n = 928) participated in a questionnaire survey and manual-assisted neurobehavioral testing. We selected 282 third-grade children (school A, 136; school B, 146) to participate in computer-assisted neurobehavioral testing. We conducted the fieldwork between May and June 2005. We used data from 861 participants (school A, 431; school B, 430) with manual neurobehavioral testing and from all participants with computerized testing for data analyses.

Results: Media concentrations of NO(2) in school A and school B campus were 7 microg/m(3) and 36 microg/m(3), respectively (p < 0.05). The ordinal logistic regression analyses showed that, after controlling the potential confounding factors, participants living in the polluted area showed poor performance on all testing; differences in results for six of nine tests (66.7%) achieved statistical significance: Visual Simple Reaction Time with preferred hand and with nonpreferred hand, Continuous Performance, Digit Symbol, Pursuit Aiming, and Sign Register.

Conclusion: We found a significant relationship between chronic low-level traffic-related air pollution exposure and neurobehavioral function in exposed children. More studies are needed to explore the effects of traffic exhaust on neurobehavioral function and development.

Keywords: air pollution; children; health effects; neurobehavioral functions; traffic-related air pollution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Air Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Air Pollution* / analysis
  • Child
  • China
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Nitrogen Dioxide / analysis
  • Nitrogen Dioxide / toxicity
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • Particulate Matter / toxicity
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Vehicle Emissions / analysis*


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter
  • Vehicle Emissions
  • Nitrogen Dioxide