Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers


  Jacobson, J.L. and S. W. Jacobson. 1996. Intellectual Impairment in Children Exposed to Polychlorinated Biphenyls in Utero. New England Journal of Medicine 335(11):783-789.  

This study documents lasting intellectual impairment in children exposed to PCBs in the womb. For press coverage, see Banned pollutant's legacy: lower IQs. Science News Online, Janet Raloff. 14 September 1996, and Food for thought: Because we eat PCBs. Science News Online, Janet Raloff. 14 September 1996.

In the study, the Jacobsons gave a series of IQ and achievement tests to 212 children, now age 11, whom the Jacobson's have followed since birth. They then analyzed these indicators of intellectual development and behavior in relation to the levels of PCBs found in the mother's blood and milk at the time of the child's birth. Their results show evidence of persistent, measurable intellectual impairment, which has not been overcome by environment or education.

The children in the study exposed to higher levels of PCBs showed deficits in general intellectual ability, short-term and long-term memory, and focused and sustained attention. The most highly exposed group had a loss of 6.2 points in IQ. They were three times as likely to have low average IQ scores and twice as likely to be at least two years behind in reading comprehension.

As the Jacobson's note, the levels of PCBs carried by these women were similar to or slightly above the general population level in the United States. They also stress that the implication of their findings are not limited to children of women who eat fish from Lake Michigan. Women who eat no fish may accumulate these compounds from other food sources, including dairy products, such as cheese and butter, and fatty meats, particularly beef and pork.

In an interview by Janet Raloff , Jacobson observes that most of the children are middle-class: "I thought that once they reached a structured school environment, whatever minor [PCB-induced] handicaps they had would be overcome. So I was quite surprised to find that, if anything, the effects were stronger and clearer at age 11 than they had been at age 4."

Raloff goes on to interview Dr. Bernard Weiss, a senior expert in neurotoxicology at the University of Rochester: "Bernard Weiss of the University of Rochester Medical Center is also impressed by the magnitude of this IQ change. The population mean hovers around 100, with half scoring higher and half lower. Ordinarily, for every 100 million people tested, he says, 2.3 million lie above 130 on the IQ scale, and another 2.3 million score below 70--a level "at which most school districts would consider [offering] remedial education."

For a population the size of the United States, a 5-point shift down the scale, he's calculated, "could move nearly 6 million children who had been above an IQ of 130 to below 130, and push an equal number of children into the below-70 category."

So when you look at populations, he says, even small reductions in IQ come to represent "very substantial shifts." Moreover, he argues, the financial consequences "could be stupendous."

Economists have developed relationships that correlate IQ and earning power, Weiss notes. "Over a 30-year working lifetime, each IQ point earns [an individual] something like $5,500 (in 1990 dollars)." Multiplied across a population, that differential would be large.






OSF Home
 About this website
Book Basics
  Synopsis & excerpts
  The bottom line
  Key points
  The big challenge
  Chemicals implicated
  The controversy
New Science
  Broad trends
  Basic mechanisms
  Brain & behavior
  Disease resistance
  Human impacts
  Low dose effects
  Mixtures and synergy
  Ubiquity of exposure
  Natural vs. synthetic
  New exposures
  Wildlife impacts
Recent Important    Results
Myths vs. Reality
Useful Links
Important Events
Important Books
Other Sources
Other Languages
About the Authors

Talk to us: email