More premature births through fine dust

Worldwide, at least 2.7 million cases a year go back to air pollution

Particulate matter not only damages directly, it apparently also affects unborn babies in the womb. © thinkstock
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Particulate matter harms even unborn children: If pregnant women are exposed to increased microparticle exposure, their risk of premature birth increases. Worldwide, at least 2.7 million premature births in 2010 were accounted for by air pollution, researchers said. That's 18% of premature babies. Much of these cases are from Asia.

That particulate matter is unhealthy is nothing new. Studies have shown that polluting the air with the tiny particles of suspended matter can increase the risk of lung cancer, activate viruses and even harm the brain. According to researchers, 3.5 million deaths per year worldwide are attributed to increased particulate matter pollution.

Is there a connection?

Now Christopher Malley of the University of York and his colleagues have discovered another negative episode of particulate matter. For their study, the researchers collected data on the particulate matter exposure of pregnant women and the proportion of premature births in 183 countries and analyzed whether a relationship can be found.

Worldwide, an estimated 14.9 million children were born before the 37th week in 2010, the researchers report. This corresponds to around eleven percent of the total of 135 million births. Risk factors for such premature birth include a higher age of the mother, multiple births, illnesses, alcohol consumption, but also poor conditions. However, physicians have long suspected that the burden of maternal health due to air pollution could also play a role.

Diesel exhaust is one of the sources of particulate matter in the city. © Kichigin / thinkstock

2.7 million premature births in addition

And in fact, as the researchers found, a burden of more than ten micrograms per cubic meter of particulate matter in 2010 alone could account for 2.7 million additional premature births worldwide. After all, this corresponds to around 18 percent of all children born prematurely. If values ​​of more than 4.3 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter were considered to be increased, then even 34 million premature births could be attributed to them. display

"Our study highlights that air pollution is not only harmful to those who breathe directly, " says Malley. "It can also seriously affect a child in the womb of his mother." The exposure of pregnant women to particulate matter is therefore clearly a potentially significant risk factor for the risk of a premature birth.

Three quarters of the cases in Asia

The evaluation also revealed significant regional differences: the regions in which particulate air pollution is particularly high also had the highest share of fine-dust premature births. Thus, Southeast Asia and South Asia together accounted for 75 percent. India alone accounts for one million of the 2.7 million premature births due to particulate matter, the researchers report. In China, another 500, 000 will be added. Air pollution and early childbirth in parts of Africa are also significantly increased.

In addition to diesel exhaust gases and other traffic-related emissions, a large proportion of particulate matter from forest fires, hearth fires and wood heating systems has been produced in developing and emerging countries, as a previous study has already shown. In the regions of Africa bordering the Sahara desert dust can also contribute to the burden, as the researchers explain.

"Lifelong consequences"

"To combat the particulate matter problem, therefore, one must control many different sources, " says co-author Johan Kuylenstierna of the University of York. "In one city, often only half of the pollution comes from inner-city sources, the rest is blown in by wind from other regions or even countries."

According to the scientists, their findings highlight the need to reduce air pollution from particulate matter and other pollutants. "The early births caused by this burden not only contribute to child mortality, they can also have lifelong consequences for the survivors, " Malley points out. (Environment International, 2017; doi: 10.1016 / j.envint.2017.01.023)

(University of York, 20.02.2017 - NPO)