Fertility and pregnancy * Babies and children

Air pollution increases risk of premature birth

Air pollution increases risk of premature birth Traffic fumes worst

Air pollution can increase a woman's risk of giving birth prematurely by up to a third, new research suggests.

A study in California found that air pollutants derived from a number of sources can be harmful to pregnant women, but traffic-related pollution was linked to a 30 per cent increase in risk.

The researchers looked at 100,000 births which took place within a five mile radius of air quality monitoring stations in Los Angeles County, over 22 months, beginning in 2004.

They compared health information about the births and mothers with that of air pollution levels from the same time period.

Overall, the study found that exposure to 'critical pollutants' such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) was linked to a thirty per cent higher risk of giving birth prematurely. PAHs are present in car exhaust fumes.

Other air pollutants, such as benzene and fine particulate matter from diesel fumes were associated with a 10 per cent higher risk of premature birth, while ammonium nitrate fine particles - an agricultural pollutant - were associated with a 21 per cent increase in risk.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Health, also found that pollution levels were higher in winter and lower in coastal areas.

Dr Beate Ritz, who led the study, said: "Air pollution is known to be associated with low birth weight and premature birth.

"Our results show that traffic-related PAH are of special concern as pollutants, and that PAH sources besides traffic contributed to premature birth.

"The increase in premature birth risk due to ammonium nitrate particles suggests secondary pollutants are also negatively impacting the health of unborn babies."

This article was published on Fri 7 October 2011

Image © Anatoly Tiplyashin - Fotolia.com

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