Study Links Air Pollution and Birth Defects

Dec. 18, 2001
A new study shows that the harmful effects of air pollution can reach into the womb, leading to such birth defects as cleft lips and palates and defective heart valves.

A new study out of the University of California - Los Angeles shows that the harmful effects of air pollution can reach into the womb, leading to such birth defects as cleft lips and palates and defective heart valves.

"Smog can harm the health of babies,'''' said lead researcher Beate Ritz, an epidemiologist at UCLA''s Center for Occupational and Environmental Health. "This should make us pause. Air pollution doesn''t just impact asthmatics and old people at the end of life, but it can affect people at the beginning of their life.

She noted that the effects of air pollution "can disadvantage people throughout their lives."

The study is not the first to link air pollution to ill effects among newborns. Other studies - in the United States, Europe, South Korea, Brazil, and Mexico - link air pollution to premature births, stillbirths, low birth weight and infant deaths. The California study, which will be published in the Dec. 28 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, finds that women exposed to high levels of ozone and carbon monoxide - common components of smog - were three times more likely than others to have babies with certain birth defects.

The study examines thousands of pregnant women in the Los Angeles area during a period from 1987 to 1993. The area studied by researchers met federal standards for carbon monoxide, and generally complied with ozone requirements. More research is needed to determine which air pollutants are most harmful to fetuses and at what stage of pregnancy the damage is done before air quality laws are changed, says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

According to Ritz, the greatest risk to the fetuses occurs during the second month of pregnancy, when they develop most of their organs and facial structure.

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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