Pregnant women exposed to even low levels of air pollution are at an increased risk of giving birth at term to low birth weight babies, according to a study.
Air pollutants – in particular fine particulates found in traffic fumes – along with traffic density increased the risk of low birthweight and reduced average head circumference of babies born at term, research showed.
The study estimated pollution at the homes of 74,000 pregnant women in 12 European countries between 1994 and 2011. It was published in the 'Lancet Respiratory Medicine'.
Traffic density on the nearest road and total traffic load on all major roads within 100 metres of the residence was also recorded.
Researchers estimated that for every increase of five micrograms per cubic metre in exposure to fine particulate matter - emitted by sources including diesel engines and coal-fired power stations – during pregnancy, the risk of low birthweight at term rose by 18pc.
This increased risk remained at levels below the existing European Union annual air quality limit of 25 micrograms per cubic metre.
The study authors estimated that if levels of fine particulates were reduced to 10 micrograms per cubic metre – 22pc of cases of low birthweight deliveries could be prevented.