Report by researchers in Barcelona draws links between mothers’ exposure to traffic pollution and low birth-weight in infants
Exposure to traffic pollution during pregnancy – even at levels below limits set out by the European Union’s Air Quality Directive – could significantly increase the risk of restricted foetal growth, a study has found.
Scientists from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL) in Barcelona compiled the study, which also examined the effect on neurodevelopment of babies.
And, researchers estimated that if levels of PM 2.5 were reduced to 10 microg/m³ (the WHO annual average air quality guideline value), 22% of cases of low birthweight among term deliveries could be prevented.
The study used data from the European Study of Cohorts for Air Pollution Effects (ESCAPE) – coordinated by the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, which pooled data from research in 12 European countries involving over 74,000 births between February 1994 and June 2011.
Air pollution concentrations of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter were estimated at the mothers’ homes using land-use regression models, while traffic density on the nearest road and total traffic load on all major roads within 100 metres of the mother’s home were also recorded.
The study claims that all air pollutants, particularly PM 2.5, and traffic density increased the risk of low birthweight at term and reduced average head circumference at birth, after accounting for other factors such as maternal smoking, age, weight, and education.
Dr Marie Pedersen, lead author of the report, said: “Our findings suggest that a substantial proportion of cases of low birthweight at term could be prevented in Europe if urban air pollution, particularly fine particulate matter was reduced.
“The widespread exposure of pregnant women worldwide to urban ambient air pollution at similar or even higher concentrations than those assessed in our study provides a clear message to policy makers to improve the quality of the air we all share.â€?
The CREAL study is thought to be one of the largest of its kind, and was published in international journal Lancet Respiratory Medicine last month.