Previous studies have explored the association between air pollution levels and adverse birth outcomes such as lower birth weight. Existing literature suggests an association, although results across studies are not consistent. Additional research is needed to confirm the effect, investigate the exposure window of importance, and distinguish which pollutants cause harm.
We assessed the association between ambient pollutant concentrations and term birth weight for 1,548,904 births in TX from 1998 to 2004. Assignment of prenatal exposure to air pollutants was based on maternal county of residence at the time of delivery. Pollutants examined included particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter ≤10 and ≤2.5 μm (PM10 and PM2.5), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and ozone (O3). We applied a linear model with birth weight as a continuous variable. The model was adjusted for known risk factors and region. We assessed pollutant effects by trimester to identify biological exposure window of concern, and explored interaction due to race/ethnicity.
An interquartile increase in ambient pollutant concentrations of SO2 and O3 was associated with a 4.99-g (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.87–8.11) and 2.72-g (95% CI, 1.11–4.33) decrease in birth weight, respectively. Lower birth weight was associated with exposure to O3 in the first and second trimester, whereas results were not significant for other pollutants by trimester. A positive association was exhibited for PM2.5 in the first trimester. Effects estimates for PM10 and PM2.5 were inconsistent across race/ethnic groups.
Current ambient air pollution levels may be increasing the risk of lower birth weight for some pollutants. These risks may be increased for certain racial/ethnic groups. Additional research including consideration of improved methodology is needed to investigate these findings. Future studies should examine the influence of residual confounding.