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Your Environment. Your Health.

Exposure to Air Pollution Around Conception Linked to Birth Defects

Aimin Chen, M.D., Ph.D., Emily DeFranco, D.O.
University of Cincinnati
P30ES006096, RC4ES019755, R01ES020349, R01ES016531, R21ES02116

Women exposed to air pollution just before conception or during the first month of pregnancy face a slightly increased risk of their children being born with birth defects, according to a new study by NIEHS grantees.

The researchers estimated the association between abnormalities at birth and the mother’s exposure during pregnancy to increased levels of fine particulate matter, an air pollutant. The team linked the geographic coordinates of the mother’s residence for each birth with the nearest monitoring station and calculated average exposures. Birth certificate data came from the Ohio Department of Health, and particulate matter data came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 57 monitoring stations throughout Ohio.

Exposure to increased levels of particulate matter in the air during the period around conception was modestly associated with an increased risk of birth defects, after adjustment for coexisting risk factors. The strongest influences of particulate matter on individual malformations were found with abdominal wall defects and hypospadias, in which the urinary opening on the penis is not in the usual location. They found that the most susceptible time of exposure was the one month before and after conception.

The authors added that although the increased risk is modest, the potential impact on a population basis is noteworthy because all pregnant women are exposed to some amount of particulate matter.

Citation: Ren S, Haynes E, Hall E, Hossain M, Chen A, Muglia L, Lu L, DeFranco E. 2018. Periconception exposure to air pollution and risk of congenital malformations. J Pediatr 193:76–84.

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