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Car pollution ‘raises risk of babies born underweight’

‘Concern’: Odds rose for small babies in polluted areas of the capital PICTURE : PA

AIR pollution from road traffic is putting unborn babies’ health at risk, a new study reveals.

Fumes from vehicles in London is linked with a rise of up to six per cent in the odds of a low birth weight and a rise of up to three per cent in the risk of being small for the baby’s gestational age, Imperial College London found.

Researchers used national birth registers to study more than 540,000 births in Greater London between 2006 and 2010. They estimated average monthly concentrations of traffic-related pollutants by looking at the mother’s home address at the time of birth.

Analysis of the data, published in the British Medical Journal, showed the link between increased traffic-related air pollutants and low-weight or small babies.

‘With the annual number of births projected to continue increasing in London, the absolute health burden will increase, unless air quality improves’, the study’s authors concluded. They found no evidence that traffic noise was linked to birth weight but ‘cannot rule out that an association might be seen in a study area with a wider range of noise exposures’.

University of Edinburgh lecturers Sarah Stock and Tom Clemens said the news was ‘concerning’, adding: ‘A global perspective reveals something approaching a public health catastrophe.’

They said the study should increase awareness, but raising the issue without solutions ‘may serve only to increase maternal anxiety and guilt’. They are calling for policies to improve air quality in urban areas.