Air Pollution Increases Risk of Low Birth Weight Babies

05.03.13

New research has concluded that air pollution in towns and cities increases the chance of women giving birth to low-weight babies. Babies are classed as underweight at birth if they are less than 2.5kgs (5lbs 8oz), the UK average is 3.3kg (7lb 5oz). At weights less than 2.5kg they face an increased risk of death during infancy, as well as chronic poor health and impaired mental development.

This latest study, which is the largest of its kind and involved millions of births around the world, focussed on tiny particulate matter of less than 2.5 and 10 micrometres in size (PM2.5 and PM10). These particles originate from a number of sources including diesel exhausts and the chimneys of coal-fired power stations and factories. They can penetrate deep into the lungs and have serious adverse effects on human health. Professor Tanja Pless-Mulloli, who led the UK arm of the study at the Newcastle University, said: “These microscopic particles, five times smaller than the width of a human hair, are part of the air we breathe every day. What we have shown definitively is that these levels are already having an effect on pregnant mothers.”

The research showed a continual trend of elevated low birth-weight risk with higher levels of air pollution. Pless-Mulloli added: “The particles which are affecting pregnant mothers mainly come from the burning of fossil fuels. In the past the culprit may have been coal fires, now it is primarily vehicle fumes. While much has been done to improve air quality, this study shows we can’t be complacent as we’ve shown that clean air is really important for the health of our new-borns.”

Across the UK and internationally, REC’s Air Quality Consultants utilise air quality monitoring results to ensure future site users are not exposed to poor air quality, as well as controlling emissions to acceptable levels. REC’s Air Quality Assessments, which often include the use of detailed dispersion modelling assessments, help protect sensitive receptors such as schools, hospitals and residential areas from high pollution levels and associated health effects.

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