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BACKGROUND—Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are complex mixtures of persistent contaminants that are widespread in the environment. Newborns are exposed across the placenta and through breast feeding. Experimental animal studies have indicated that PCBs are neurotoxic. The neurological effects of these compounds on children are not clear. Methods—A systematic review of literature on the relation between neurological development in children and exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls.
RESULTS—Seven follow up studies evaluated the effect of prenatal exposure to PCBs. Two of these studies evaluated highly exposed children. In newborns, an increase of the abnormal reflexes was observed in all four studies evaluating it. During the first months of life, a decrease in motor skills was observed in four of the five studies that investigated psychomotor development; deficits in the acquisition of cognitive skills were observed only in one study assessing non-highly exposed populations. At 4 years of age, an effect on the cognitive areas was observed in four of the five studies that evaluated it. Postnatal exposure to PCBs through breast feeding was not clearly related to any effect on neurological development.
CONCLUSIONS—These studies suggest a subtle adverse effect of prenatal PCBs exposure on child neurodevelopment. Differences in study design, inconsistency in some of the results, and the lack of adequate quantitative exposure data, do not allow the derivation of the degree of risk associated with neurodevelopmental effects at current levels of exposure.
Keywords: polychlorinated biphenyls; neurological development; systematic review