According to studies in Edinburgh and Aberdeen Universities, air pollution can lead to babies being born with shorter bodies and smaller heads. It was found that high exposure to toxic fumes during pregnancy can be nearly as harmful as smoking.
The findings are particularly worrying because the study – the largest of its kind so far conducted – only examined pollution in northern Scotland, where air quality is relatively good compared to more congested areas. These findings come just weeks after another study at Edinburgh University showed that nano-sized particles found in traffic fumes can damage the immune system’s ability to kill viruses and bacteria. These emissions can aggravate lung conditions and thought to increase the risk of dementia.
Dr Tom Clemens, who led the latest study, has called on the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the EU to urgently review their definition of “acceptable” emissions levels amid concern they are still too high. He added: “Our findings suggest that there may not be a truly ‘safe’ level of exposure during pregnancy.
“A foetus with a non-smoking mother exposed to high pollution levels is only slightly better off than one with a smoking mother exposed to low levels of pollution. This implies that the effect of exposure to the highest They detected average concentrations of 7.2 micrograms per metre cubed — well below the annual average of 10 micrograms per metre cubed that is deemed acceptable by WHO.”
Unlike previous air pollution studies, the investigation by Clemens and his team looked at the effect on developing foetuses of microscopic specks of dust and soot that can enter the lungs and bloodstream.
In February, the European Commission admitted that air quality laws had been flouted in more than 130 cities across 23 of the 28 EU member states, including the UK. It is estimated to cut average life expectancy in Scotland by three to four months and causes 2,500 premature deaths.
The UK Government has pledged to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2040 as part of efforts to reduce air pollution from traffic.
It has been estimated that 59 per cent of the British population is living in towns and cities where nitrogen dioxide pollution breaches the lawful level of 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air.
This article originally appeared on The Herald, 28.08.2017