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December 9, 1992

Cognitive Development of Yu-Cheng ('Oil Disease') Children Prenatally Exposed to Heat-Degraded PCBs

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Psychiatry (Drs Chen and Hsu) and Environmental Health (Dr Guo), National Cheng Kung University Medical College, Tainan, Taiwan, Republic of China, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, NC (Dr Rogan).

JAMA. 1992;268(22):3213-3218. doi:10.1001/jama.1992.03490220057028

Objective.  —To compare the cognitive development in Taiwanese children who had been exposed prenatally to high levels of heat-degraded polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) with control children who were exposed to background levels. The disorder was called Yu-Cheng, "oil disease," in Taiwan.

Design.  —Matched-pair cohort study.

Setting.  —Communities in central Taiwan in which there had been a cooking-oil contamination and mass poisoning by heat-degraded PCBs in 1978 through 1979.

Participants.  —One hundred eighteen children born between June 1978 and March 1985 during or after their mothers' consumption of contaminated rice oil; 118 children matched for age, sex, neighborhood, maternal age, and parental education and occupational class; and 15 older siblings of exposed children, born before the poisoning.

Main Outcome Measures.  —Cognitive development measured from 1985 through 1990 using the Chinese versions of the Stanford-Binet test and the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Revised.

Results.  —The exposed children scored approximately 5 points lower on the Stanford-Binet test at the ages of 4 and 5 years and approximately 5 points lower on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Revised, at the ages of 6 and 7 years. Children born up to 6 years after their mothers' exposure were as affected as children born within a year or two after exposure when examined at 6 and 7 years of age. Older siblings resembled the control children.

Conclusion.  —Children prenatally exposed to heat-degraded PCBs had poorer cognitive development than their matched controls. The effect persisted in the children up to the age of 7 years, and children born long after the exposure were still affected.(JAMA. 1992;268:3213-3218)