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Once again air pollution is linked to health problems, this time exposure during pregnancy is linked to congenital malformations (what are commonly called birth defects). From Science Daily:

Smoke signals: New evidence links air pollution to congenital defects

The health effects of air pollution are a major concern for urban populations all over the world. A new study provides new evidence linking high exposure to air pollution to an increased risk of congenital malformations. Children, the elderly, and people with impaired respiratory systems (such as asthmatics) tend to be especially sensitive to the impact of exposure to ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and particulate matter.

A recent study by Tel Aviv University researchers provides new evidence linking high exposure to air pollution to an increased risk of congenital malformations. The nationwide study is the first to assess the association between different modes of conception-assisted reproductive technology (ART) versus spontaneous conception (SC) -- and the risks of exposure to air pollution to each.

"Our results suggest that exposure to higher levels of air pollution during pregnancy is associated with various adverse pregnancy outcomes," said Prof. Lerner-Geva. "While our study mainly followed SC infants, we also had the opportunity to assess a small sample of pregnancies that were conceived through ART, and observed a higher impact of air pollution -- particularly with regard to ozone exposure. This is clearly a uniquely susceptible population that should be further explored."

For the study, funded by the Environmental Health Fund (EHF), the research team analyzed data on 216,730 born in Israel between 1997 and 2004. Air pollution data, including, levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter (PM10), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and ozone (O3) were obtained from air monitoring stations for the study period. Using a geographic information system, exposure to air pollution during both the first trimester and the entire pregnancy was assessed for each woman according to her place of residence.

The researchers found that exposure to PM10 and NOX pollutants throughout full-term pregnancies were associated with an increased risk of congenital malformations, with specific defects evident in the circulatory system (from PM10 and NOX exposure) and genital organs (from NOX exposure). They also discovered that exposure to SO2 and O3 in ART pregnancies were associated, although not significantly, with a higher risk of congenital defects.

Two studies finding various forms of air pollution having effects on the developing fetus - the first one (fine particulate air pollution) to autism, and the second (outgassing of new flooring) to later breathing problems.

From Medical Xpress: Fine particulate air pollution linked with increased autism risk

Women exposed to high levels of fine particulate matter specifically during pregnancy—particularly during the third trimester—may face up to twice the risk of having a child with autism than mothers living in areas with low particulate matter, according to a new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The greater the exposure, the greater the risk, researchers found. It was the first U.S.-wide study exploring the link between airborne particulate matter and autism.

"Our data add additional important support to the hypothesis that maternal exposure to air pollution contributes to the risk of autism spectrum disorders," said Marc Weisskopf, associate professor of environmental and occupational epidemiology and senior author of the study.... Prior studies have suggested that, in addition to genetics, exposure to airborne environmental contaminants, particularly during pregnancy and early life, may affect risk of autism. This study focused specifically on the pregnancy period.

The study population included offspring of participants living in all 50 states in Nurses' Health Study II, a cohort of more than 116,000 female U.S. nurses begun in 1989. The researchers collected data on where participants lived during their pregnancies as well as data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other sources on levels of fine particulate matter air pollution (PM2.5)—particles 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller—in locations across the U.S. The researchers identified 245 children who were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and a control group of 1,522 children without ASD during the time period studied.

Exposure to PM2.5 was significantly associated with autism during pregnancy, but not before or after, the study found. And during the pregnancy, the third trimester specifically was significantly associated with an increased risk. Little association was found between air pollution from larger-sized particles (PM10-2.5) and autism.

From Science Daily: New floor covering can lead to breathing problems in babies

New flooring in the living environment of pregnant women significantly increases the risk of infants to suffer from respiratory diseases in their first year of life. This is the result of a study that demonstrates that exposure to volatile organic compounds in the months before and after birth induces breathing problems in early childhood. The scientists therefore recommend that redecoration should be avoided during pregnancy or in the first year of children’s life.

The observed health risks are caused by increased concentrations of volatile organic compounds (in short: VOCs), such as styrene or ethylbenzene, which escape from new flooring and are then absorbed through the respiratory air. "We therefore do not recommend that laminate, carpet or floor coverings be laid in the homes of pregnant women. Although the concentrations of these volatile chemicals are lower if no adhesive is used when installing the flooring, even then the concentrations are still high enough to significantly increase the risk of infants suffering from respiratory complaints in their first few months," explains Dr. Ulrich Franck from the UFZ. 

Earlier studies from Leipzig had already shown that chemicals from home renovations lead to changes in the immune system of new-born children.... According to our results, exposure to these volatile chemical compounds seems to be more critical in pregnancy than in the first year of a child's life," concludes Dr. Irina Lehmann from the UFZ, who is in charge of the LINA study on lifestyle and environmental factors and their influence on the risk of allergies in newborn babies. An analysis of the data showed that renovations after the birth of a child had a much lower impact on respiratory problems than during pregnancy.

Another reason to be concerned about air pollution. And another study showing a link with environmental chemicals (this time coarse and fine particulate matter, known as PM10, which arises in part from traffic-related air pollution) and autism. From Science Daily:

Researcher adds to evidence linking autism to air pollutants

A researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) has added to a growing body of evidence that links autism to air pollutants such as those generated by cars and trucks.

Amy Kalkbrenner's study, published this week online at the journal Epidemiology, showed that pollution's impact on autism rates in North Carolina is similar to results of pollution-autism studies in California -- despite weather and climate differences between the two states. In addition, the work of Kalkbrenner and her colleagues, building on previous studies, showed that women in the third trimester of pregnancy were more susceptible to the damaging effects of air pollution on their unborn child.

"It adds another piece supporting the hypothesis that environmental chemicals are part of the autism puzzle," says Kalkbrenner, an assistant professor in UWM's Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health. Autism, a spectrum of disorders affecting interpersonal relations and work achievement, now affects some 1 in 68 children in the U.S.

Her research team focused on exposure to coarse and fine particulate matter, known as PM10, which arises in part from traffic-related air pollution...Researchers used a new, more exact tool to measure the levels of particulate matter in smaller slices of time, based on pollution at the family's address during pregnancy. With this method, they were able to compare exposures during specific weeks of pregnancy. The approximately one thousand children who later developed some form of autism spectrum disorders were then compared to all other children.

Reasons for increased susceptibility in the third trimester of pregnancy are not known at this time. However, Kalkbrenner says this finding is consistent with theories that show links between autism and altered brain network development, specifically synaptic connections that are developing during the final months of pregnancy.

There have been a number of recent studies finding various harms from air pollution - both for children and adults.The following are all from Science Daily:

Living near major roads may increase risk of sudden cardiac death in women

Living near a major road was associated with an increased risk of sudden cardiac death in women. Environmental exposure may increase heart disease risk as much as smoking, poor diet or obesity.

In 523 cases of sudden cardiac death, living within 50 meters (164 feet) of a major road increased the risk of sudden cardiac death by 38 percent, compared to living at least 500 meters (.3 miles) away. Each 100 meters (328 feet) closer to roadways was associated with a 6 percent increased risk for sudden cardiac death.

Air pollution harmful to young brains, study finds

Pollution in many cities threatens the brain development in children. Findings from a recent study reveal that children living in megacities are at increased risk for brain inflammation and neurodegenerative changes, including Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease.

The study found when air particulate matter and their components such as metals are inhaled or swallowed, they pass through damaged barriers, including respiratory, gastrointestinal and the blood-brain barriers and can result in long-lasting harmful effects..."We asked why a clinically healthy kid is making autoantibodies against their own brain components," Calderón-Garcidueñas said. "That is indicative of damage to barriers that keep antigens and neurotoxins away from the brain. Brain autoantibodies are one of the features in the brains of people who have neuroinflammatory diseases like multiple sclerosis."

High-pollution days linked to increased risk of cardiac arrest

Rates of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest are elevated after days with high levels of air pollutants, reports a Japanese study. For example, 48 to 72 hours after days with high levels of particulate air pollution, the risk of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest increased by 17 percent, the researchers report.

Strong link between higher levels of pollution, lung health of European citizens

New data has identified a clear link between higher levels of exposure to air pollution and deteriorating lung health in adult European citizens. This study confirms previous findings that children growing up in areas with higher levels of pollution will have lower levels of lung function and a higher risk of developing symptoms such as cough and bronchitis symptoms. The new study also identified that people suffering from obesity are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of air pollution, possibly due to an increased risk of lung inflammation.

Air pollution linked to irregular heartbeat, lung blood clots

Air pollution is linked to an increased risk of developing an irregular heartbeat -- a risk factor for stroke -- and blood clots in the lung, finds a large study. The evidence suggests that high levels of certain air pollutants are associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular problems, but exactly how this association works has not been clarified.

From Science Daily:

Overweight or obese people breathe more air pollutants

Overweight or obese adults can breathe 7-50% more air per day than an adult with healthy weight does, which makes them more vulnerable to air contaminants causing asthma and other pulmonary diseases, according to a study by Dr. Pierre Brochu, a professor at Université de Montréal's School of Public Health. For overweight or obese children, daily inhalation rates are 10-24% higher than for normal weight children.

Study based on more than 1,900 participants: Brochu's study is based on an analysis of data from 1,069 participants aged 5-96 years, compared with data collected from 902 normal weight people (in a study conducted by Dr. Brochu in 2011). Data were analyzed, among other things, according to participant age and gender. Adults were also classified according to their body mass index

The situation for obese children may be even more worrisome, according to the data analyzed by Dr. Brochu. In fact, because of their much higher metabolism -- in relation to their low body weight -- they breathe more air per kilogram of weight than obese adults do to maintain their basic functions and perform their daily activities. The same trend applies to men compared to women. "It remains to be seen if high inhalation rates are a factor in the development of asthma and other lung diseases in adults and children," said Dr. Brochu, who hopes to eventually validate this hypothesis.