Friday, October 11, 2013

Large study finds exposure to even low levels of air pollution during pregnancy has risks

"Our findings suggest that a substantial proportion of cases of low birthweight at term could be prevented in Europe if urban air pollution, particularly fine particulate matter, was reduced", explains lead author Dr Marie Pedersen from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, Spain.

The researchers estimate that for every increase of 5 micrograms per cubic metre (5µg/m³) in exposure to fine particulate matter during pregnancy, found in for example traffic fumes and industrial air pollutants, the risk of low birthweight at term rises by 18%. Importantly, this increased risk persists at levels below the existing EU annual air quality limit of 25µg/m³. 

Using data from the European Study of Cohorts for Air Pollution Effects (ESCAPE, coordinated by the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands), the investigators pooled data from 14 cohort studies in 12 European countries involving over 74 000 women who had singleton babies between Feb, 1994 and June, 2011.

Air pollution concentrations of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter were estimated at the home addresses using land-use regression models. Traffic density on the nearest road and total traffic load on all major roads within 100m of the residence were also recorded.

All air pollutants, particularly fine particulate matter (PM 2.5; with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less), and traffic density increased the risk of term low birthweight and reduced average head circumference at birth, after accounting for other factors like maternal smoking, age, weight, and education.

The researchers estimated that if levels of PM 2.5 were reduced,  22% of cases of low birthweight among term deliveries could be prevented.

According to Dr Pedersen, "The widespread exposure of pregnant women worldwide to urban ambient air pollution at similar or even higher concentrations than those assessed in our study provides a clear message to policy makers to improve the quality of the air we all share."

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