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A mother’s exposure to atmospheric pollution results in a risk of her baby having low birth weight

06 Feb 2013 | By INSERM (Newsroom) | Cancer

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An international study coordinated by Professor Tracey Woodruff of the University of San Francisco reveals that mothers exposed to atmospheric pollution due to particles in suspension in the air (vehicle emissions, city central heating systems and coal-burning power stations) presented with a higher risk of bearing babies with a low birth weight. This study, of which the French section was assigned to Rémy Slama and Johanna Lepeule, researchers at the INSERM U823 Unit, the Centre de recherche Institut Albert Bonniot, was published on 6 February 2013 in the journal entitled Environmental Health Perspectives.

The study involved an analysis of data collected from three million births recorded in North America, South America, Europe, Asia andAustralia. The study was based on registers of births (recorded electronically and easily accessible in certain countries) and epidemiological cohorts. InFrance, the women and children who took part were from theEdencohort, coordinated by INSERM inNancyandPoitiers.

The researchers established, from various sites throughout the world, that the higher the level of pollution, the greater the proportion of seriously underweight births. The findings are consistent with results previously obtained by the INSERM environmental epidemiology team headed by Remy Slama:

using the Eden cohort as the basis, for which we recovered the fœtus scans, we noted that atmospheric pollution appeared to restrict fœtus growth from the mid-term of pregnancy”.

A low birth weight (a weight of less than 2,500 kg) implies serious health consequences, including greater risk of morbidity and post-natal mortality, as well as chronic health problems later in life”, notes the main author Payam Dadvand, MD, PhD, of the Centre pour la recherche en épidemiologie environnementale (CREAL) in Barcelona, Spain.

The important element observed is that the risks emerge at atmospheric pollution levels to which virtually the whole world population is regularly exposed”, explains Tracey J. Woodruff.

The INSERM team, headed by Remy Slama in Grenoble, is currently coordinating an analysis based more specifically on new-borns in ten European countries (as part of the ESCAPE project) that is designed to confirm whether these effects on birth rate have been observed on a Europe-wide scale and to define more specifically the role of urban pollutants.

The question of the effects of such exposure post-natally is currently being examined through epidemiological monitoring of certain children participating in the study.

Particulate pollution is measured by concentration (in micrograms per cubic metre) of particles that are sufficiently fine to be able to penetrate deeply into the lungs. In theUnited States, the regulations require the average annual atmospheric concentration not to exceed 12 µg per cu. m. of particles measuring less than 2.5 microns (or PM2.5). The European limit has been fixed at 25 µg per cu.m. and the European Union’s regulating agencies are currently examining the possibility of reducing this threshold. This limit is not complied with in certain metropolises, especially at sites close to heavy road traffic. The World Health Organization’s target value of 10 µg per cu. m. is not met in a large number of French metropolises.

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Rémy Slama

Unité Inserm U823 « Centre de recherche Institut Albert Bonniot »


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Maternal Exposure to Particulate Air Pollution and Term Birth Weight: A Multi-Country Evaluation of Effect and Heterogeneity

Payam Dadvand, Jennifer Parker, Michelle L. Bell, Matteo Bonzini, Michael Brauer, Lyndsey A. Darrow, Ulrike Gehring, Svetlana V. Glinianaia, Nelson Gouveia, Eun-hee Ha, Jong Han Leem, Edith H. van den Hooven, Bin Jalaludin, Bill M. Jesdale, Johanna Lepeule, Rachel Morello-Frosch, Geoffrey G. Morgan, Angela Cecilia Pesatori, Frank H. Pierik, Tanja Pless-Mulloli, David Q. Rich, Sheela Sathyanarayana, Juhee Seo, Remy Slama, Matthew Strickland, Lillian Tamburic, Daniel Wartenberg, Mark J Nieuwenhuijsen, Tracey J. Woodruff

Environmental Health Perspectives, 06 février 2013