Effect of Air Pollution in Pregnancy - Consumer Justice Foundation

Effect of Air Pollution in Pregnancy

Written by Faith Anderson on February 6, 2013
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Pollution Affects Pregnant Mothers

The new study examined millions of births around the world, and is the largest of its kind ever conducted. It focused on tiny sooty carbon particles called PM10s and even smaller PM2.5s, which are known to be associated with lung and heart problems and even early death. These particles originate from a number of sources, including the chimneys of coal-fired power stations and factories, and diesel car exhausts. According to study author Tanja Pless-Mulloli, who led the UK branch of the study at the Newcastle University, “As air pollution increases we can see that more babies are smaller at birth, which in turn puts them at risk of poor health later in life.” She continued, “These microscopic particles, five times smaller than the width of a human hair, are part of the air we breathe every day. What we have shown definitively is that these levels are already having an effect on pregnant mothers.”

Low Birth-Weight Leads to Long-Term Health Issues

The study authors collected data on more than three million births at 14 locations in the UK, North America, South America, Australia and Asia. In the study, researchers examined the impact of a 10 microgram per cubic metre increase in average exposure to pollution particles during the course of pregnancy. For PM10s, this increase elevated the risk of having a low birth-weight baby by 0.03%, which was said to be statistically significant. For PM2.5s, a much larger 10% increased risk was seen. The report concluded, “The estimated combined associations, although relatively small, could be of major public health importance considering the ubiquitous nature of particulate air pollution exposure, and therefore the potential for considerable population attributable risk, particularly given evidence of perinatal (around the time of birth) and life-long effects of LBW (low birth-weight) on health.”

Vehicle Fumes Account for Harmful Air Pollution

Upon the completion of the study, Pless-Mulloli noted, “The particles which are affecting pregnant mothers mainly come from the burning of fossil fuels. In the past the culprit may have been coal fires, now it is primarily vehicle fumes.” As Dr. Tony Fletcher, senior lecturer in environmental epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said, “The study is of excellent quality and the conclusions are clear: while the average effect on each baby is small and so should not alarm individual prospective parents, for the whole population these small risks add up across millions of people. Another reason for London and other large cities to force traffic-related pollution down to lower levels.”

Posted Under: International
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