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Portable HEPA Filter Air Cleaner Use During Pregnancy and Children's Behavior Problem Scores: A Secondary Analysis of the UGAAR Randomized Controlled Trial

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BackgroundDevelopmental exposure to particulate matter (PM) air pollution may impair children's behaviors. Our objectives were to quantify the impact of reducing indoor PM using portable HEPA filter air cleaners during pregnancy on behavioral problems in children and to assess associations between indoor fine PM (PM2.5) concentrations during pregnancy and children's behavior. MethodsThis is a secondary analysis of a single-blind parallel-group randomized controlled trial in which we randomly assigned 540 non-smoking pregnant women to receive 1 or 2 HEPA filter air cleaners or no air cleaners. We administered the Behavior Assessment System for Children (BASC-3) to caregivers when children were a mean age of 23 months, and again at a mean age of 48 months. Primary outcomes were the four BASC-3 composite scales: externalizing problems, internalizing problems, adaptive skills, and the behavioral symptoms index. We imputed missing data using multiple imputation with chained equations. The primary analysis was by intention-to-treat. In a secondary analysis, we evaluated associations between BASC-3 composite indices and modeled trimester-specific PM2.5 concentrations inside residences. ResultsWe enrolled participants at a median of 11 weeks gestation. After excluding miscarriages, still births and neonatal deaths, our analysis included 478 children (233 control and 245 intervention). We observed no differences in the mean BASC-3 scores between treatment groups. An interquartile increase (20.1 µg/m3) in first trimester PM2.5 concentration was associated with higher externalizing problem scores (2.4 units, 95% CI: 0.7, 4.1), higher internalizing problem scores (2.4 units, 95% CI: 0.7, 4.0), lower adaptive skills scores (-1.5 units, 95% CI: -3.0, 0.0), and higher behavior symptoms index scores (2.3 units, 95% CI: 0.7, 3.9). Third trimester PM2.5 concentrations were also associated with some behavioral indices at age 4, but effect estimates were smaller. No significant associations were observed with PM2.5 concentrations during the second trimester or for any of the BASC indices when children were 2 years old. ConclusionWe found no benefit of reducing indoor particulate air pollution during pregnancy on parent-reported behaviors in children. Associations between indoor PM2.5 concentrations in the first trimester and behavioral scores among 4-year old children suggest that it may be necessary to intervene early in pregnancy to protect children, but these exploratory findings should be interpreted cautiously.
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