Several studies in the past few years have linked chemical exposure to the development of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD — particularly pesticides, phthalates and PCBs. Now a new study suggests that perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, may not only be linked to the development of ADHD, but they may be responsible for hyperactivity, the core culprit of ADHD behavior.
PFCs have been used since the 1950s to make Teflon and many other stain- and water-repellent products. They are found in a number of household products such as pots and pans, furniture and pesticides. They have previously been linked to neurological problems, such as delayed gross motor development, and recently they have made news for their association with hormonal and reproductive dysfunction, namely postponed puberty, earlier menopause and infertility.
In this most recent study, researchers at Syracuse University looked at how the chemicals might affect impulsiveness, a core ADHD feature. They asked 83 children ranging from 9 to 11 years old to learn and play a computer game that had only one rule: Players must wait at least 20 seconds after pressing a keyboard’s space bar before doing it again. Sounds easy enough, but those 20 seconds can be painfully long for kids without impulsiveness control.
“This test measures a child’s ability to put the brakes on responding,” explains Brooks Gump, a psychologist at Syracuse University and the lead researcher behind the study. “And measures of response inhibition are directly related to impulsiveness.”
The researchers also measured PFC levels in the children’s blood. They found that as pollutant levels went up, the children waited less time between button presses. According to Gump, the results hint that PFC levels influence impulsiveness. He also noted that all kids in the study had some level of PFCs in their blood.