Researchers in China have found a significant link between air pollution and the risk of miscarriage, according to a new scientific paper released on Monday.
While air pollution is connected to a greater risk of respiratory diseases, strokes and heart attacks, the new findings could add more urgency to Beijing’s efforts to curb the problem, which has long plagued Chinese cities. Faced with a rapidly aging population, the government has been trying to increase the national birthrate, which dropped last year to the lowest level since 1949.
In a study published in the journal Nature Sustainability, scientists from five Chinese universities examined the rate of “missed abortions” in the first trimester, which can occur in up to 15 percent of pregnancies. Also known as silent or missed miscarriages, they happen when the fetus has died but there are no physical signs of miscarriage, leading the parents to mistakenly think the pregnancy is progressing normally.
Zhang Liqiang, a researcher at Beijing Normal University and lead author of the study, said such miscarriages can be “especially traumatic” for expecting parents, who often only find out about them days or weeks later. He also added that they weren’t well studied, part of the reason for the researchers’ focus.
Using the clinical records of 255,668 pregnant women from 2009 to 2017 in Beijing, the study assessed their exposure at home and at work to air pollution that comes from industries, households, cars and trucks. The researchers looked at four types of air pollutants: a deadly fine particulate matter known as PM2.5, sulfur dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide. The levels were calculated based on historic data gathered by the network of air monitoring systems around the Chinese capital, which is notorious for its gray, soupy skies.
Among the women included in the study, 17,497, or 6.8 percent, experienced silent miscarriages in their first trimester. Taking into consideration different ages, occupations and air temperature, the researchers found that “in all groups, maternal exposure to each air pollutant was associated with the risk.”
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SOURCE: The New York Times, Amy Qin