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The roar of jet engines may pose a hidden danger to babies: higher odds of premature birth tied to plane exhaust.
So finds a study showing that pregnant women exposed to high levels of pollution from the exhaust of jet planes are 14% more likely to deliver prematurely than women exposed to lower levels.
Researchers looked at exposure to small-particle air pollution among women living near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
"Nearly 2 million people live within a 10-mile radius of LAX, many of whom are exposed to elevated levels of aircraft-origin ultrafine particles [UFPs]" in the air they breathe, noted study co-author Sam Wing, from UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health.
The new study was led by UCLA's Dr. Beate Ritz, a professor in the departments of epidemiology and environmental health sciences. Her team looked at records of more than 174,000 births between 2008 and 2016 to mothers living within nine miles of the airport.
The study wasn't designed to prove cause-and-effect. However, after taking into account air pollution from traffic and other factors, including airport noise and the mother's age, education and race, the researchers found that pregnant women in the area with the highest ultrafine particle exposure had higher odds of preterm birth than mothers exposed to the lowest level of pollution.
"The data suggest that airplane pollution contributes to preterm births above and beyond the main source of air pollution in this area, which is traffic," Ritz said in a UCLA news release.
Two ob-gyns who weren't involved in the research said the findings should be a wake-up call for the airlines industry.
The study results are "not surprising, as there have been other studies done looking at perinatal and fetal illness in geographic areas associated with high levels of air pollution," said Dr. Mitchell Kramer. He's chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Huntington Hospital in Huntington, N.Y.
Besides cautioning moms-to-be who live in smoggy areas to try and stay indoors, Kramer believes "it would also be helpful for the aviation industry to come up with fuels and aircraft engines that are more friendly to the environment."
Dr. Jennifer Wu is an ob-gyn at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She noted that 11% of babies are born prematurely, and that number hasn't budged for years.
"This new study on the risks of jet fuel pollution highlights the fact that many pathogens in the environment pose a risk to pregnant women," Wu said.
The report was published July 22 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
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