Air pollution and emotional behavior in adolescents across the U.S.


Recent studies have linked air pollution to increased risk for behavioral problems during development, albeit with inconsistent findings. Additional longitudinal studies are needed that consider how emotional behaviors may be affected when exposure coincides with the transition to adolescence – a vulnerable time for developing mental health difficulties. This study examines how annual average PM2.5 and NO2 exposure at ages 9-10 years relates to internalizing and externalizing behaviors over a 2-year follow-up period in a large, nationwide U.S. sample of participants from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study®. Air pollution exposure was estimated based on the residential address of each participant using an ensemble-based modeling approach. Caregivers answered questions from the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) at baseline and annually for two follow-up sessions for a total of 3 waves of data; from the CBCL we obtained scores on internalizing and externalizing problems plus 5 syndrome scales (anxious/depressed, withdrawn/depressed, rule-breaking behavior, aggressive behavior, and attention problems). Zero-inflated negative binomial models were used to examine both the main effect of age as well as the interaction of age with each pollutant on behavior while adjusting for various socioeconomic and demographic characteristics. Overall, the pollution effects moderated the main effects of age with higher levels of PM2.5 and NO2 leading to an even greater likelihood of having no behavioral problems (i.e., score of zero) with age over time, as well as fewer problems when problems are present as the child ages. Albeit this was on the order equal to or less than a 1-point change. Thus, one year of annual exposure at 9-10 years is linked with very small change in emotional behaviors in early adolescence, which may be of little clinical relevance.