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Air pollution linked to low birth weight

AFP
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photo: AP
photo: AP

For pregnant women, breathing in air pollution from vehicles, heating and coal power plants increases the risk of having a low birth weight baby, an international study said on Wednesday.

The research, the most extensive of its kind on the link between air pollution and foetal development, found that the higher the pollution, the greater the rate of children born with a low weight. Scientists analysed data from more than three million births in nine nations in North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. Low birth weight — below 5.5 pounds, or 2.5 kilograms — is linked to serious health problems, including a higher risk of complications or death in the weeks right after birth, as well as chronic health problems later in life, said lead author Payam Dadvand.

“What's significant is that these are air pollution levels to which practically everyone in the world is commonly exposed,” said investigator Tracey Woodruff , a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology and reproductive sciences at UC San Francisco.

“These microscopic particles, which are smaller than the width of a human hair, are in the air that we all breathe.”

But she noted that nations with tighter air pollution restrictions have lower levels of the pollutants.

In Beijing, the concentration of these particles was recently measured at more than 700 micrograms per cubic meter.

Thick smog choked the Chinese capital and vast swathes of northern China last month, blamed on emissions from coal-burning power stations and exhaust fumes from vehicles on choked streets.

“From the perspective of world health, levels like this are obviously completely unsustainable,” said study co-author Mark Nieuwenhuijsen of CREAL.

An epidemiological study of some of the children included in the data is investigating whether these pregnancy exposures can have an impact in their later years.AFP

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