Early exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) can interfere with early childhood development, say researchers in Germany.
A total of 171 healthy mother-and-infant pairs were included in the study. The children's development was monitored at 7, 18, 30 and 42 months. Levels of PCBs were assessed in the newborn's cord blood, in maternal milk and, at 42 months, in the children's blood.
At all ages, there was evidence that exposure to PCBs could retard mental and motor development. However, the researchers also found evidence that where the mother breastfeeds for longer (even if her breastmilk is a source of PCBs), and in families where the parents provided a stimulating home environment, the damage caused by the PCBs could be substantially mitigated (Lancet, 2001; 358; 1602-7).