Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy linked to small, preterm babies in southwestern Ontario: study

A new study that found a link between air pollution and the health of newborn babies has local researchers urging expecting moms to be cautious about their environment, while simultaneously urging southwestern Ontario to address poor air quality.

By studying 25,000 live births at London Health Sciences Centre and looking into the postal codes of birth moms, scientists discovered women were 30 per cent more likely to have a low birth weight baby and were 20 per cent more likely to deliver preterm if they experienced a “typical high exposure to sulfur dioxide,” compared to those with typical low exposure.

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“All pregnant women will be exposed to sulfur dioxide, but in areas of southwestern Ontario where there’s higher concentrations of smelters and industrial sources, those would be the areas that have greater risk of exposure,” said Dr. Jamie Seabrook, a scientist with Lawson Health Research Institute and the study’s lead author.

Seabrook told 980 CFPL that air pollution inhaled through pregnant women’s lungs has been found in baby’s placentas.

For every one-parts-per-billion increase in sulfur dioxide, the study found pregnant women in southwestern Ontario were 3.4 times more likely to have a low birth weight baby — defined as less than 2,500 grams — and two times more likely to have a preterm birth, defined by a birth in under 37 weeks gestation.

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According to the research institute, 67 per cent of sulfur dioxide emissions come from smelters and utilities, 25 per cent comes from other industrial resources. It’s also present in vehicle emissions.

Seabrook suggests women limit their exposure when air quality is bad by spending more time indoors with closed windows, especially during rush hour, or by keeping windows closed while travelling by vehicle.

“The take-home message would be that while prenatal care, healthy eating, and prenatal vitamins, while those are all important to a healthy pregnancy, so is the air quality that we breathe. And I hope this study raises some concerns that we need to do more to improve the air quality in southwestern Ontario.”

Researchers adjusted for health-related variables, a mother’s education, income level and medical history. The study which came out of Western University, Brescia University College, and Lawson Health Research Institute was recently published in the journal Environmental Research.

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