Urban air pollution linked to birth defects for first time; UCLA research links two pollutants to increased risk of heart defects

Exposure to two common air pollutants may increase the chance that a pregnant woman will give birth to a child with certain heart defects, according to a UCLA study that provides the first compelling evidence that air pollution may play a role in causing some birth defects.

Pregnant Los Angeles-area women living in regions with higher levels of ozone and carbon monoxide pollution were as much as three times as likely to give birth to children who suffered from serious heart defects, according to a study published in the Jan. 1 edition of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Researchers from the UCLA School of Public Health and the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program found the risk for the birth defects increased among women exposed to elevated amounts of the pollutants in the second month of their pregnancy, a period when the heart and other organs begin developing.

The greater a womans exposure to one of these two pollutants in the critical second month of pregnancy, the greater the chance that her child would have one of these serious cardiac birth defects, said Beate Ritz, a UCLA epidemiologist who headed the study. More research needs to be done, but these results present the first compelling evidence that air pollution may play a role in causing some birth defects.

Researchers conducted the study by matching extensive air pollution monitoring information collected by regional air-quality officials with information from the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program, a program funded by the state Department of Health Services that collects comprehensive information about structural birth defects in partnership with the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation.

The birth defects registry is an exquisite investigational tool. Because of this resource we are able to intensify the search for causes of birth defects, said John A. Harris, chief of the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program. One in 33 babies in the

Contact: Warren Robak
University of California - Los Angeles

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