Pollution

Poor air quality can affect pregnancy, raise death risk

High level of pollutants in air is responsible for one of every nine global deaths, totaling over seven million premature deaths a year, including 600,000 children

 
By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Wednesday 05 June 2019
Poor air quality can affect pregnancy, raise death risk. Photo: Getty Images

Air pollution has remained a serious public health threat throughout the world. A new study demonstrated that exposure to aerosols of ammonium sulphate during pregnancy can increase risk of birth defects and stillbirths.

According to the World Health Organization, high level of pollutants in air is responsible for one of every nine global deaths, totaling over seven million premature deaths a year. This also includes 600,000 children.

 A team of researchers from Texas A&M University exposed 10 female rats upto 18 days of their pregnancy — to clean air and with “100 to 200 per cubic meter air of ultrafine aerosols of ammonium sulphate”, according to the study published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

Maternal exposure to poor air quality increased stillbirths, led to premature delivery and low birth weight. It also increased foetus’ risk of developing insulin resistance and liver fat. In adult rat models, the deadly substance damaged brains, hearts and other organs, the results showed.

“People typically believe that ammonium sulfate may not be terribly toxic, but our results show large impacts on female pregnant rats,” Renyi Zhang, professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M said in a statement.

“It is unclear yet what is causing these profound effects, but we speculate that the size of nanoparticles or even the acidity may be the culprit,” Zhang added.

Sulfate is mainly produced from coal burning, while ammonium is derived from ammonia, which is produced from agricultural, automobile, and animal emissions, “so this certainly represents a major problem worldwide,” Zhang said.

The team also detected large fractions of ammonia sulfate — several hundred micrograms per cubic metre — in China and India, particularly during the winter months and also from Houston (51 per cent) and Los Angeles (31 per cent) in the United States.

“However, our results show that prenatal exposure to air pollution may not dispose offspring to obesity in adulthood,” said Guoyao Wu, Professor at Texas A&M University. “Nutrition and lifestyle are likely major factors contributing to the current obesity epidemic worldwide.”

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