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Does Air Pollution Cause Miscarriage, Damage to Fetuses?

Scientific research has long drawn a link between exposure to air pollution and a heightened risk of miscarriage. But a new study has revealed that air pollution is just as bad for pregnant women as smoking is.

This study, hailed as the first to analyze the effects of short-term exposure to air pollution, found that elevations in nitrogen dioxide levels increase the risk of miscarriage by as much as 16 percent.

By way of background, nitrogen dioxide is an air toxin released into the environment as a result of car exhaust and fossil fuel combustion processes. Exposure to nitrogen dioxide increases the likelihood of developing respiratory problems. Exposure to this type of air pollution can cause lung inflammation, and spur other symptoms such as wheezing and coughing.

But back to the study: Conducted in Salt Lake City, Utah, the research was published in January by the journal “Fertility and Sterility.” Specifically, it analyzed the health records of more than 1,300 women who were treated between 2007 and 2015 in the emergency department following miscarriages.

Researchers found a strong link between miscarriage and the level of nitrogen dioxides in the air in the week before the loss of the pregnancy. However, scientists said a greater risk of miscarriage was also linked to:

  1. Elevated levels of particulate matter

  2. Higher levels of ozone

  3. Elevated levels of Sulphur dioxide

While scientists acknowledge that the “mechanism by which air pollution could harm a fetus” is unknown, they believe that toxin-driven stress and inflammation are likely culprits.

This study reinforces research released by the National Institutes on Health in 2017. That study found that exposure to common types of air pollution may increase the risk of early pregnancy loss, especially ozone. The NIH research showed that pregnant women who lived in neighborhoods with elevated levels of ozone were 12 percent more likely to suffer a miscarriage, while those exposed to higher levels of particulate matter were 13 percent more likely to experience a pregnancy loss.

Researchers for both studies have said pregnant women can lower their exposure risk by limiting their time outdoors on poor air-quality days, and by using an indoor filter to improve indoor air quality.

Editor’s Note: A 2018 study showed that Pittsburgh has some of the worst air in the entire nation. GASP has been fighting the good fight for 50 years and we need your help! Join us today to become a clean air ambassador for the ‘Burgh. Here’s how.

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