Air pollution increases the risk of premature birth



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Airborne pollutants increase the risk of premature birth

Air pollution in the form of fine dust increases the risk of premature birth by 30 percent. This is the result of US researchers who have examined possible connections between air pollution and the risk of premature birth in the Los Angeles area.

It has long been suspected that air pollution has a negative impact on the course of pregnancy. "It has long been known that there is a connection between air pollution and low birth weight as well as premature babies," explained study director Beate Ritz from the University of California at Los Angeles in the current issue of the journal "Environmental Health". However, according to the expert, it has so far remained unclear which pollutants are precisely the cause of the complaints. In their investigation, the US researchers were able to demonstrate that the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) contained in particulate matter in particular cause an increase in premature births.

30 percent increased risk of premature birth due to PAH The risk of premature birth due to the PAH contained in fine dust increases by up to 30 percent, according to the US scientists in the journal "Environmental Health". Other air pollutants, such as benzene or diesel soot contained in car exhaust, increase the premature birth rate by a further ten percent, explained study leader Beate Ritz. For the first time, the pollutants that significantly increase the risk of premature birth are clearly named, whereby the results of the US researchers show “that PAHs from vehicle emissions are of particular importance,” emphasized Ritz. To test a possible link between air pollution and preterm birth risk, the scientists had analyzed the data from seven state measuring points for the control of air pollution in Los Angeles County over a period of 22 months and with the information of the California health authorities on the births in the vicinity of the Measuring stations compared. The researchers supplemented the air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, ozone, particulate matter and carbon monoxide recorded in the measuring stations with information about toxic chemicals that were made available to them by the South Coastal Air Quality Management air quality monitoring. They also integrated a model of the traffic emissions produced in the Los Angeles metropolitan area into the study. The birth information was based on the figures from the California health authority, with only 110,429 out of around 276,000 births taken into account, where the mother's place of residence was within five kilometers of an air quality measurement point.

The higher the air pollution, the higher the risk of premature birth
The result of the study was clear: the higher the air pollution, the higher the risk of premature birth. According to their own information, the researchers were able to establish clear connections between the spatial and temporal concentration of air pollution and the occurrence of premature births. The underlying process is believed to be triggered by the inflammatory effects of PAHs and other fine dust components, the US scientists explained. The organic components of the fine dust cause an increased release of inflammatory substances in the mucous membrane cells and at the same time weaken the self-healing powers of the organism, explained Beate Ritz and colleagues. In addition, individual components of the fine dust can cause damage to the mitochondria - the tiny cell power plants of the human organism, the US researchers emphasized. In doing so, they referred to earlier laboratory studies that had found a clearly negative effect of certain particulate matter on the mitochondria.

However, the scientists not only registered a negative direct effect of the fine dust components on the course of pregnancy, but also referred to the influence of substances such as ammonium nitrate, which only arise when various air pollutants react. At high ammonium nitrate concentrations, the proportion of premature babies rose by 21 percent, which suggests that "that secondary pollutants also have a negative impact on the health of unborn children," emphasized the study leader Beate Ritz. Overall, the US researchers assessed their results as an important contribution to assessing and significantly reducing the effects of air pollution on public health in the future. (fp)

Picture: Günter Havlena / pixelio.de

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