New Studies Link Air Pollution to Pregnancy Risks

by jim on October 17, 2013

Pregnant BellyTwo new studies provide more evidence that current air pollution standards are not protective of human health.

On Monday, the British Medical Journal, The Lancet, published the results of a huge European-based examination of the effects of Particulate Matter pollution (PM) on the birth weight of newborns. It pooled 14 different previous studies that included more than 74.000 mother-child pairings over 12 countries.

Concentrations of PM below the current European Union standard of 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air – twice the new US standard proposed by EPA in 2012 – were linked to low birth weigh babies. The authors estimated that for every 5 micrograms increase in PM, there was a corresponding 18% increase in there risk of giving birth to an underweight child. Most scientists looking at data like this suggest there really is no safe standard for exposure to PM – that is, any amount can be harmful to health in some way. In this case, the PM was going from mother to child and affecting its health even before coming out of the womb and taking its own first breath.

“We have evidence from animal studies that the tiniest particles enter the bloodstream and go to the fetus,” said the senior author, Rémy Slama, a senior investigator at the Institute of Health and Medical Research in Grenoble, France. “Can we expect other health effects in these children? There are hints that there might be — low birth weight is a marker of negative effects in adulthood.”

PM Pollution comes primarily from types of combustion, like flares in the gas field, power plants, cement kilns and yes, your internal combustion engine in you car. PM pollution is dense along heavily-traveled roads and highways. This kind of information is slowly beginning to impact urban planning. You probably don't want to put an elementary school next to a freeway, or an apartment complex at an intersection. Likewise, you want to try to avoid living directly downwind of thick plumes of the stuff coming from, say an industrial complex that hosts three cement plants and a steel mill. i.e Midlothian.

A University of Florida study that came out last week concluded that pregnant women who live in areas with high levels of air pollution were more likely to suffer from high blood pressure. In this case, the health of approximately 22,000 pregnant women were correlated to readings from local air monitors. Those women living closer to monitors registering high levels of air pollution – defined as not only PM, but smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide and Volatile Organic Compounds  – were 12 to 24 % more likely to also have high blood pressure. Although flawed in some important ways by not ruling out variables like weight, the report falls in line with previous studies linking air pollution to blood pressure spikes.

 

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