"What I take away from this is neurodevelopment is really sensitive to stresses of various kinds," said Swan, vice chairman of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai. This (the influence of PAHs) is one. Environmental tobacco smoke is one. The mother's mental state is another one. And they all can play out in developmental effects upon the offspring many years later."
Perera and her colleagues have been following a group of 253 African-American and Dominican women, all non-smokers living in New York City, who gave birth between 1999 and 2006. They plan to follow their children to age 12.
Even if pregnant women knew earlier that just breathing city air potentially was putting their children's health at risk, there isn't much they could do to protect their sons and daughters other than keeping their homes smoke-free.
However, said Dr. Maida P. Galvez, associate professor of preventive medicine and pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, "pregnant women and their families can support local, state and federal legislation promoting improved overall indoor and outdoor air quality. For example, several states have passed legislation banning smoking in public places," she said. "Groups like Mothers and Others for Clean Air are good resources for families."
"This is really a paper about social justice," Swan said. "Poor people have more exposure to these things on all counts, whether the bad air, or psychosocial stress and other things. That's a societal problem and the changes are not going to be on an individual level. They're going to be on a societal level."