Air Pollution and its Effect on Fetal Development

 In Environmental Medicine, Fertility, Women's Health

Mitch Kennedy, ND

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are byproducts of burning fossil fuels (gas, diesel, kerosene, coal) and are common air pollutants throughout the US. Although known human mutagens and carcinogens, their effect on fetal growth previously has not been studied. A new study from researchers in New York and China examined fetal birth weight, length and PAH exposure of pregnant women in Krakow, Poland and New York City (NYC).

Personal air monitoring of pregnant women was conducted over 48 hours, and excluded samples from mothers who had chemicals in cord blood showing inhalation of tobacco smoke. In general, prenatal PAH exposure was 10 times higher in Krakow than NYC. Prenatal PAH exposure was associated with significantly reduced birth weight in both Krakow Caucasians (p < 0.01) and NYC African-Americans (p < 0.01).

However, at low-level exposures common to the two cities (1.80-36.47ng/m3), the effect on birth weight was six times greater for NYC African-Americans than for Krakow Caucasians (p = 0.01). The researchers suggest this difference may be from the additive effect of African-Americans’ exposure to chlorpyrifos, a common pesticide used in inner-city buildings that is not used in Poland. No studies have been done on the cumulative effects of multiple chemical exposures in adults, children or fetuses.

Source: Hyunok C et al: EHP pre-pub International Studies of Prenatal Exposure to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and Fetal Growth, doi:10.1289/ehp.8982, available at


Kennedy-HeadshotMitch Kennedy, ND has a family practice in Avon, CT, and is the first ND with clinical privileges at the University of Connecticut, a teaching hospital. Before graduation from Southwest College, Kennedy earned an international reputation as a leader in pollution prevention, showing industries around the world how preventing pollution saves money.

Recommended Posts

Start typing and press Enter to search