New studies link air pollution to premature birth and low IQ in children

I'm a mom.  While pregnant, I, like every other mom I know, compiled a mental list of all the "to do's" and "not do's" in order to give my baby the best shot in life.  I took folic acid supplements more than a year before conception.  While pregnant, I took all the birthing, breastfeeding, and baby care classes I could possibly squeeze in.  And I sidelined the margaritas from my favorite Mexican joint along with coffee, soft cheese, and sushi.  My husband even pumped my gas.

In most instances, with a little education and a lot of will power I was able to avoid all of the "bad" things.  I just made different, smarter choices.  But two recent studies are likely to leave pregnant women with few options, unless of course, they can hold their breath.

Today, the Associated Press reported that the quality of air that pregnant women breathe can affect the IQ of their children.  Researchers studied 249 children borne by women in New York City who wore backpack air monitors during the last few months of their pregnancy.  The children were given IQ tests at age 5, before starting school.  The children exposed to the most air pollution before birth scored lower than children with less exposure.   

Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that women exposed to air pollution from freeways and congested roads are much more likely to give birth to premature babies.  A team of scientists from UC Irvine and UCLA studied babies born in Long Beach, near the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and in adjacent Orange County--areas with several major freeways, scores of daily commuters, and thousands of heavy-duty trucks that deliver goods to and from the ports.  The scientists reviewed the birth records of more than 81,000 infants, and found that the risk of having a baby born before 30 weeks of gestation increased 128% for women who lived near the worst traffic-generated air pollution.  Further, preeclampsia increased 42% for women who lived in those areas.  Preeclampsia is a serious illness that involves high blood pressure, and can endanger the baby and the mother. 

That's sobering news to a mom like me who lives in Los Angeles--the region with the worst air quality in the nation.  It also makes NRDC's on-going work more urgent and relevant.  From cleaning up the ships and trucks at the ports to suing government agencies to ensure Los Angeles has a shot at meeting federal air quality standards, we're working overtime for a whole new generation of Angelinos.  Talk about a daily dose of inspiration.