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Air pollution linked with low birth weight

New research reported on today suggests that air pollution can have a significant health impacts for unborn babies.

The Guardian and others have reported on a study from Newcastle University which suggests inhaling traffic fumes can heighten the risk of babies being born weighing under 5lb 8 oz. Beneath this bar they are considered to be underweight.

The researchers assessed millions of births from across the world in their study. They reported in Environmental Health Perspectives that low birth weight from air pollution brought with it increased risk of ill health and chronic health problems later in life.

Professor Pless-Mulloli, who led the UK arm of the study, said: “The particles which are affecting pregnant mothers mainly come from the burning of fossil fuels. In the past the culprit may have been coal fires, now it is primarily vehicle fumes.”

Air pollution’s health impacts on broader groups are well established. Car exhausts and other sources of air pollution contribute to many thousands of premature deaths every year, as well as causing exacerbations of asthma and disproportionately impacting on the young and old.

The new study comes hot on the heels of a report from the World Health Organisation, which sets out stronger and broader evidence of the health impacts of air pollution, in particular PM, NO2 and ozone. The research was carried out specifically to feed the latest evidence into the 2013 review of the European Union’s air policy, and reinforces the case for increasingly stringent policy.

Sadly, the UK government seem to be swimming against the tide, calling for weakening of legal protections, stalling on major commitments such as establishing a national framework of low emission zones, and seeking to distance the UK from EU environmental legislation – which has been accused of constraining ‘growth’. Improving air quality could give a significant boost to green industry even if it incurred some cost to the more polluting sectors. While the need to maintain a healthy economy is not in question, should economic growth really be blindly pursued at any cost, even when competing with the growth of our unborn children?

To find out more about air quality and health, have a look at our Am I at risk? page.

People interested in the air pollution challenges faced by London can find out more in Londoner’s stories.

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