Exposure to air pollution linked to increased risk of premature birth
Exposure to air pollution in pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of premature birth and low birth weight.
Despite Ireland's air quality continuing to rate well in global and European tables, testing by the Environmental Protection Agency has suggested that Irish people are regularly exposed to cancer-causing particulate matter (PM) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). Such emissions are a result of solid fuels in heating and traffic fumes, and have been shown to damage lungs, resulting in respiratory problems.
Previous research has highlighted high levels of air pollution exposure that babies in prams can experience during the school run. Now, exposure to air pollution early in a pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of preterm birth and low birth weight.
A new animal study led by researchers from New York University's School of Medicine, has found that exposure to air pollution - during the equivalent of the first or second trimester in humans - is linked to more negative birth outcomes than exposure later in pregnancy.
Researchers studied the effects of fine particulate air pollution, which is made up of particles less than one ten-thousandth of an inch in diameter, or PM2.5. Inhalable and almost invisible to the eye, this type pollution comes from car exhaust, coal-fired power plants, and other industrial processes. PM2.5 exposure has previously been linked to risk for asthma and heart disease.
Past studies have linked high levels particulate matter exposure to low birth weight, but the impact of the timing of maternal exposure on birth weight had been debated. The new findings suggest that exposure during the first two trimesters has the greatest affect, say the study's authors.
Dr Judith Zelikoff, a professor in the department of environmental medicine at NYU, says there is an urgent need for more research into the impact of air pollution on pregnant women:
"These findings could lead doctors to advise women to avoid high pollution areas or use air filtration systems during the early stages of pregnancy. With preterm birth and low birth weight having such serious health consequences, the need for further research in this area is greater than ever."