Prenatal exposure to persistent organic pollutants and cognition and motor performance in adolescence

Environ Int. 2018 Dec;121(Pt 1):13-22. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2018.08.030. Epub 2018 Aug 29.


Background: Prenatal exposure to persistent organic pollutants (POPs), such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), was found to be associated with poorer neurological development in children. Knowledge about the effects on outcomes until adolescence is limited.

Objectives: To determine whether prenatal exposure to POPs, particularly hydroxylated PCBs (OH-PCBs), is associated with cognitive and motor development in 13- to 15-year-old children.

Methods: This prospective observational cohort study is part of the Development at Adolescence and Chemical Exposure (DACE)-study, a follow-up of two Dutch birth cohorts. Maternal pregnancy serum levels of PCB-153 and three OH-PCBs were measured, in part of the cohort also nine other PCBs and three OH-PCBs, and in another part five polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), dichloroethene (DDE), pentachlorophenol (PCP) and hexabroomcyclododecane (HBCDD). Of the 188 invited adolescents, 101 (53.7%) participated, 55 were boys. Cognition (intelligence, attention, verbal memory) and motor performance (fine motor, ball skills, balance) were assessed. Scores were classified into 'normal' (IQ > 85; scores > P15) and '(sub)clinical' (IQ ≤ 85; scores ≤ P15). We used linear and logistic regression analyses, and adjusted for maternal education, maternal smoking, maternal alcohol use, breast feeding, and age at examination.

Results: Several OH-PCBs were associated with more optimal sustained attention and balance. PCB-183 was associated with lower total intelligence (OR: 1.29; 95%CI:0.99-1.68; P = .060), and HBCDD with lower performance intelligence (OR: 3.62; 95%CI:0.97-13.49; P = .056). PCBs, OH-PCBs and PBDEs were negatively associated with verbal memory.

Conclusions: Prenatal background exposure to several POPs can influence neuropsychological outcomes in 13- to 15-year-old Dutch adolescents, although exposure to most compounds does not have clinically relevant consequences at adolescence.

Keywords: Adolescent; Cognitive function; Motor skills; Persistent organic pollutant; Prenatal exposure.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure*
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Motor Skills*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / blood*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Prospective Studies


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls