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How Air Pollution Can Affect Your Pregnancy

Katlyn Joy |17, January 2015


A new study published in Environmental Research shows that those exposed to high levels of air pollution contribute to congenital defects. The study was led by researchers Professor Liat Lerner-Geva of TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and School of Public Health, and Dr. Adel Farhi of the Gertner Institute for Epidemiology and Health Policy Research, in collaboration with Professor Itzhak Benenson of TAU's Department of Geography and Human Environment and Professor Yinon Rudich of the Weizmann Institute of Science.

The research was funded by the Environmental Health Fund, conducted through Tel Aviv University, and analyzed 216,730 births in Israel from 1997 and 2004.

While we already know that air pollution takes a negative toll on populations in urban areas, particularly children, the elderly and those with respiratory issues such as asthma, the components of air pollution identified as harmful include ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter.

This study, however, is the first to compare assisted reproductive technology or ART and spontaneous conception or SC, and the effects of air pollution on each.

"Our results suggest that exposure to higher levels of air pollution during pregnancy is associated with various adverse pregnancy outcomes," said Professor Lerner-Geva. "While our study mainly followed SC infants, we also had the opportunity to assess a small sample of pregnancies that were conceived through ART, and observed a higher impact of air pollution — particularly with regard to ozone exposure. This is clearly a uniquely susceptible population that should be further explored."

The researchers received data from air monitoring stations during the study period, looking at nitrous oxides or NOx, ozone or 03, particulate matter or PM10, and sulfur dioxide or SO2. During the study, the air pollution data was measured for each woman according to her location throughout her pregnancy, beginning in the first trimester. While exposure to sulfur dioxide and ozone were only associated with congenital defects at a slightly higher rate, other exposures yielded more startling data. Exposure to particulate matter and nitrous oxides in full term pregnancies were associated with congenital abnormalities. With particulate matter and nitrous oxides, there was a higher incidence of defects in the circulatory system, while with nitrous oxides alone there were more defects in genital organs.

An ART registry has been developed in Israel to give more data on ART pregnancy outcomes, creating a database for larger studies to identify populations most vulnerable within the ART population. Professor Lerner-Geva is currently working on studying more about environmental exposures in pregnancy, at a more specific level.

"Considering the worldwide decline in fertility, and the increasing number of children born through ART treatments, our findings about their increased risk of congenital malformations are very relevant," said Professor Lerner-Geva. "It is essential we continue to evaluate this unique population."

According to Healthy Child Healthy World, pregnant women, and parents of young children should follow these steps to help protect their family from air pollution.

Keep updated on the air quality in your area. On poor air quality days, avoid going outdoors. You can get detailed info for your area by checking out where you can get a breakdown on the levels of specific pollutants such as particulate matter or ozone. If you must go outdoors, do so in the early morning or after sunset, as many pollutants, but especially ozone, are affected by sunlight.

If you enjoy a good walk or run, which is a great idea for pregnant women to keep healthy, try to avoid areas near traffic. Opt for walk or run routes that are near parks or other places with plenty of trees to help clean the air. Remember, exerting yourself makes you breathe in more so exercising on low quality air days, or near big sources of pollution will cause you to breathe in unhealthy air.

Keep windows closed on poor quality air days. You may also look into buying an air purifier for your home to counter indoor air pollution.

Stay hydrated. This keeps your airways moist and more able to fight off the ill effects of bad air.

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