News / Health

Air Pollution Raises Risk of Low Birth Weight Babies

Smog from smokestacks, automobiles, and other sources of pollution, Los Angeles, April 2009 (file photo).
Smog from smokestacks, automobiles, and other sources of pollution, Los Angeles, April 2009 (file photo).
Jessica Berman
The largest study ever conducted on air pollution's impact on newborn health has found that pregnant women exposed to black soot from urban vehicles and coal-fired power plants are more likely to have low birth-weight babies.  

The study by an international group of researchers analyzed data on three million births collected at 14 sites in nine countries in North America, South America, Asia and Australia.  It covered about 15 years beginning in the mid-1990s.

The massive survey found that at all these sites, pregnant women who breathed the most polluted air - as measured by carbon soot concentrations - were significantly more likely to have babies with low birth weights - below 2,500 grams or 5.5 pounds.  At that size, a baby - if he or she survives infancy - is at risk of chronic health problems and learning disabilities later in life.

Particulate air pollution is determined by a combination of soot particles' concentration in a cubic meter of air, and their size, measured in microns.  Tracey Woodruff, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California San Francisco, and a co-principal investigator on the study, says this microscopic dust - smaller than the width of human hair - is in the air we all breathe.  Its impact on our health varies with the concentration and size of the particulate matter.  Woodruff says a relatively low concentration of 10-micron soot particles. . .

“...was associated with a 3 percent increase in the risk of having a low birth-weight baby," said Woodruff. "So the risk at the individual level is modest, but we’re talking about many, many, many women around the world (being) exposed.”

In the United States, Clean Air laws require that soot particles measure less than 2.5 microns in size, at concentrations of no more than 12 micrograms per cubic meter.  In Europe, the limit is 25 micrograms.  In Beijing, China, soot concentrations were measured recently at more than 700 micrograms per cubic meter.  Urban areas in South Asia are also reporting dangerously high soot concentrations.

Woodruff says there are several possible reasons why this kind of air pollution causes low birth-weight in infants.

“It could be that because particulate air pollution is affecting the health of the mother, that that in turn affects the health of the developing fetus," she said. "Or it could be that some of these particles actually have the ability to go into your lungs and then some of the toxic materials on the particle can get into your blood stream, and maybe that can go down to the fetus and affect development in that way.”

The scientists got their data from centers participating in the International Collaboration on Air Pollution and Pregnancy Outcomes, a global research initiative launched in 2007 to assess the impact of urban air pollution on pregnancy and newborn health.
 
An article on air pollution and low birth weight is published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.  

You May Like

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infectionsi
X
November 28, 2014 3:31 PM
South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infections

South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.

All About America

AppleAndroid