Though we’ve been enjoying a run of days of idyllic air quality, there are more studies on air pollution that remind us not to be too complacent. On Monday, April 8, the New York Times Well blog posted about a new study linking exposure to air pollution during the first two months of pregnancy to a highly increased risk of birth defects.
The American Journal of Epidemiology published the results of the study, which “aimed to investigate whether ambient air pollutant and traffic exposures in early gestation contribute to the risk of selected congenital anomalies.” The study was conducted in the San Joaquin Valley of California in the US between 1997 and 2006. Just like Beijing, San Joaquin Valley is surrounded by mountains, which traps pollutants. San Joaquin Valley has some of the worst air pollution in the US, and though it’s difficult to find past air quality readings for the area, it’s a safe bet that the pollution has never reached “hazardous” levels or gone off the charts, as it has in Beijing.
Adjusting for variables like smoking, maternal age and other variables, the Times explains that the study found that “a mother living in areas with the highest levels of carbon monoxide or nitrogen oxide concentrations … was almost twice as likely to give birth to a child with neural tube defects – severe and often fatal defects of the brain and spinal cord – as one living in areas with the lowest concentrations.”
The study’s lead author, Amy Padua, told the Times that “These results need to be taken into context. More studies are needed to affirm these associations before we make any clinical recommendations to pregnant women.”
Photo by flickr user chrismockford