Transnational Study Links Air Pollution To Low Birth Weight
February 7, 2013

Air Pollution Linked To Low Birth Weight

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Research continues to emerge detailing how outdoor air pollution is linked to low birth weight in newborn babies around the world. In the largest study of its kind, scientists recently analyzed data collected from more than three million births in nine nations in North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. They utilized information collected from research centers in the International Collaboration on Air Pollution and Pregnancy Outcomes.

After the assessment, the team found that the higher the pollution rate was at the test site, the greater the risk of newborns having a low birth weight. Low birth weight is associated with an increased risk of postnatal morbidity and mortality as well as chronic health problems.

Writing in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, the team pointed out that these air pollution exposure levels have become standard for a large portion of the world´s population.

"These microscopic particles, which are smaller than the width of a human hair, are in the air that we all breathe," said co-principal investigator Tracey J. Woodruff, who is also director of Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment Department at the University of California.

"In the United States, we have shown over the last several decades that the benefits to health and wellbeing from reducing air pollution are far greater than the costs," Woodruff explained. "This is a lesson that all nations can learn from."

Federal regulators in the US require that the yearly average concentration of these particles in the air be no more than 12 micrograms per cubic meter for particles measuring less than 2.5 microns, while European Union regulators limit the concentration to 25 micrograms per cubic meter. In Beijing, however, which is notorious for its poor air quality, the concentration of these particles was recently measured at over than 700 micrograms per cubic meter.

"This study comes at the right time to bring the issue to the attention of policy makers," said study co-author Mark Nieuwenhuijsen with the Barcelona-based Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL). "From the perspective of world health, levels like this are obviously completely unsustainable."

Though not directly involved with the study, Dr. Tony Fletcher, senior lecturer in Environmental Epidemiology at the prestigious London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told BBC he endorsed the study's findings.

"The study is of excellent quality and the conclusions are clear," Fletcher said. "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."