Pollution shrinks fetuses, researchers say
Jan 11,2008 00:00 by Bend_Weekly_News_Sources

Ex­po­sure to air pol­lu­tion sig­nif­i­cantly re­duces fe­tus size dur­ing preg­nan­cy—which bodes ill for the af­fect­ed chil­dren’s life­long health, sci­en­tists are re­port­ing.

Adri­an Bar­nett of Aus­trali­a’s Queens­land Un­ivers­ity of Tech­nol­o­gy and col­leagues com­pared fe­tus sizes as shown in more than 15,000 ul­tra­sound scans, to air pol­lu­tion lev­els in the ar­ea of Bris­bane, Aus­tral­ia.

Major roadways can be sources of air pollution. (Image courtesy NSF)

“Moth­ers with a high­er ex­po­sure to air pol­lu­tion had fe­tuses that were, on av­er­age, small­er” as re­vealed by three key meas­ures, Bar­nett said. 

“While we need to get more da­ta from in­di­vid­ual moth­ers be­fore we can be more cer­tain about the ef­fects of air pol­lu­tion on fe­tal de­vel­op­ment, we would rec­om­mend that where pos­si­ble preg­nant wom­en re­duce their ex­po­sure to air pol­lu­tion.” Avoid­ing ma­jor roads when pos­si­ble may help, he said.

The 10-year stu­dy, con­ducted with Craig Han­sen of the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agen­cy, ex­am­ined fe­tuses in mid-pregnancy and ap­peared in the Dec. 17 on­line is­sue of the re­search jour­nal En­vi­ron­men­tal Health Per­spec­tives

“To our knowl­edge this is the first study of its kind as it uses ul­tra­sound meas­ure­ment as a di­rect es­ti­mate of growth, rath­er than us­ing birth weight as a de­layed meas­ure of growth,” Bar­nett said. “When analyzing scans from wom­en at dif­fer­ent dis­tances to mon­i­tor­ing sites, we found that there was a neg­a­tive rela­t­ion­ship be­tween pol­lu­tants such as sul­fur di­ox­ide found in die­sel emis­sions, and ul­tra­sound meas­ure­ment.”

Fe­tal size is im­por­tant, Bar­nett said, be­cause “birth weight is a ma­jor pre­dic­tor of lat­er health; for ex­am­ple, big­ger ba­bies have been shown to have high­er IQs in child­hood and low­er risk of car­di­o­vas­cu­lar dis­ease” lat­er. 

The findings may be par­tic­u­larly sur­pris­ing in light of the fact that Bris­bane is seen as a rel­a­tively clean ­city, he added. “Some peo­ple may think there is no air pol­lu­tion in Bris­bane be­cause the air looks so clean,” he not­ed. But “you have to re­mem­ber that most air pol­lu­tants are not vis­i­ble to the na­ked eye, peo­ple do have a very out­door lifestyle, and homes are de­signed to maximize airflow. So al­though the ac­tu­al lev­els of pol­lu­tion are low our ex­po­sure to what­ev­er is out there is rel­a­tively high. This is par­tic­u­larly a prob­lem for peo­ple who live near ma­jor roads.” Mo­tor ve­hi­cles cause most of the air pol­lu­tion in Bris­bane, he added, as in many oth­er ci­ties.

Courtesy Queens­land 
Un­ivers­ity of Tech­nol­o­gy