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Traffic fumes pose same risk to foetus as smoking

Stuart Spear07/09/2017 - 10:40

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Air pollution as dangerous as smoking
Air pollution as dangerous as smoking

In the largest study of its kind new research has revealed that breathing in traffic fumes during pregnancy can result in foetal abnormalities similar to tobacco smoke exposure.

The joint study by Edinburgh and Aberdeen universities looked at the relationship between foetal size and exposure to poor air quality across the north east of Scotland.

It revealed that pregnant mothers exposed to nitrogen dioxide and particulates (PM10s and PM2.5s) between 1994 and 2009 were likely to give birth to babies with smaller heads and shorter bodies.

Foetal measurements were taken from routine ultrasound scans and maternity records. These measurements were compared to residential annual pollution concentrations taken as a calendar year mean.

The study was then adjusted for whether the mother was a smoker or not. Out of the 13,775 pregnancies studied in the sample group 2,700 smoked.     

The research found that in non-smoking mothers the relationship between pollution exposure and the head circumference, abdominal circumference and femur length of their babies was significant.

However, with smoking mothers the difference between foetal size for mothers living in polluted and non-polluted areas was insignificant.

Lead scientist Dr Tom Clemens said that his team’s findings showed that ‘a foetus with a non-smoking mother exposed to high pollution levels is only slightly better off than one with a smoking mother exposed to low levels of pollution.’

Dr Clemens also urged the World Health Organization and the European Union to amend their definition of acceptable emission levels.

The highest pollution concentrations in the northeast Scotland were at 7.2 micrograms per cubic meter, below the average 10 micrograms per meter limit recommended by the WHO.

Study co-author Chris Dibben warned that while most mothers are aware of the dangers smoking posed in their unborn children, many were led aware of the impact of air pollution.

This was particularly the case for mothers living in areas thought of as less polluted than major cities.


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