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Road Traffic Air Pollution Puts Unborn Babies At Health Risk, Warns UK Study

According to a study done on half a million infants, air pollution from road traffic in London adversely affects fetal growth

london-traffic air pollution_istock
  • Traffic air pollution in London is adversely affecting fetal growth: Study
  • The findings come from a study of more than half a million infants
  • No conclusive effect on babies’ health of traffic-related noise: Study

New Delhi: Air pollution, a major public health issue is the single biggest environmental killer, claiming over 6.5 million lives a year, according to United Nations. It has also been associated with reduced fetal growth, according to a study of more than half a million infants conducted in UK. Pregnant women exposed to exhaust fumes, soot and dust spewed out from road traffic are more likely to give birth to babies that are underweight or smaller than they should be, the study published in The British Medical Journal (BMJ warned. The findings led by researchers at Imperial College London could be applicable to other cities in the UK and across Europe with comparable levels of road traffic pollution, highlighting the need for environmental health policies to improve air quality in urban areas.

Also Read: Wearable Devices Will Help Examine Effect Of Air Pollution On Health

The latest study looked at the link between exposure to air and noise pollution from road traffic during pregnancy and the effect on measures of birth weight – both low birth weight (less than 2,500 gram) and being born small for gestational age. Previous studies have shown a link between air pollution, pregnancy complications and childhood illness, but when it comes to traffic-related noise, the study found no conclusive effect on babies’ health.

Also Read: Air Pollution Wiping Out The Health Benefits Of Walking: Study

Cutting the average concentration of fine particle pollution emitted by London’s road traffic by just 10 per cent could prevent around 90 babies a year (three per cent of cases) being born with low birth weight.

The study focused on records of more than half a million (540,365) babies born in the Greater London area between 2006 and 2010, along with the mother’s home address location. Researchers estimated average monthly concentrations of pollutants related to road traffic, including nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from traffic exhaust and non-exhaust sources, such as brakes or tyre wear, as well as larger particulate matter (PM10).

Average day and night-time road traffic noise levels were also estimated. They found higher levels of these air pollutants, particularly PM2.5, were associated with two percent to six percent increased odds of low birth weight and one percent to three percent increased odds of being small for gestational age.

Our study has shown that a small but significant proportion of babies born underweight in London are directly attributable to exposure to air pollution, particularly to small particles produced by road traffic, said Mireille Toledano from Imperial College London.

“Babies born with low birth weight or who are small for their gestational age, are at increased risk of dying within their first month, as well as diseases in later life, such as cardiovascular disease. Any policies aimed at reducing road traffic pollution in urban environments could therefore help to reduce the health impact on unborn babies and their life-long disease risk,” said Mireille Toledano

This study suggests that in Greater London, which has 19 percent of all annual births in England and Wales, air pollution from road traffic is having a detrimental impact upon babies’ health, before they are born. And, with the annual number of births projected to continue increasing in London, the absolute health burden will increase at the population level, unless air quality in London improves.

On December 5, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan in a tweet announced the trial of a major new air quality monitoring system in London to analyse harmful pollution in up to 1,000 toxic hot spots, including near schools, hospitals, busy roads, and construction projects in the city. As part of this project, air pollution data from different locations will be collected by mobile devices to give a fuller picture of the problem from next year.

During his Delhi visit, Mr Khan also launched a global network to find solutions to improve worsening air quality in cities worldwide. Mayor Khan will work with his Indian counterparts to lead a new network of 20 cities fighting pollution. London will share data from its trial with the network, to be managed by the C40 group of cities, a network of major cities like London, Paris, Los Angeles and Copenhagen working together to reduce greenhouse emissions and creating models that other cities and governments can adopt. Notably, all the members will have access to the learnings from the Air Quality Network.

Also Read: London Mayor Launches Global Network In Delhi To Find Air Pollution Solutions

With inputs from PTI

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