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Low Birth Weight Caused by Mother’s Exposure to Outdoor Air Pollution


52439_relEmissions from vehicle emissions, urban heating and coal power plants cause low birth weight of children. This is the conclusion that was reached by an international team of scientists led by co-principal investigator Tracey J. Woodruff, PhD, MPH, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at UC San Francisco along with Jennifer Parker, PhD, of the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study was released on 6th of February in the Journal Environmental Health Perspectives. It is based on data for more than three million births in nine nations at 14 sites in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. Such dataset has never been used before, making the study the largest of its kind.

The data were gathered from research centers in the International Collaboration on Air Pollution and Pregnancy Outcomes, an international research collaborative established in 2007 to study the effects of pollution on pregnancy outcomes. It covered the period between the mid-1990s to the late 2000s.

The team established that mothers, exposed to high pollution rates, gave birth to babies with weight lower than 2500 grams or 5.5 pounds. This is usually associated with a number of other serious health problems such as high risk of postnatal morbidity and mortality, as well as various chronic health problems later in life.

Woodruff pointed out that almost everyone is exposed to these air pollutants. In parts of the world where the regulations are stricter, the level of pollutants is lower. The scientist is convinced and has shown that the benefits for health and wellbeing are much greater than the cost.

In the U.S. air pollution regulations indicate that the concentration of particles of the size of less than 2.5 microns, should be no more than 12 µg/m3. In the European Union, the limit is 25 µg/m3, but there is an on-going debate to lower this value.

According to Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, PhD, of CREAL, one of the co-authors, the study will bring the issue to the attention of policy makers. He presented striking numbers measured in Beijing, China, where the pollution levels reached more than 700µg/m3.

The follow up study will look into the effects of these pollutants on children, who were included in the current work.

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