Climate 411

Traffic-Related Air Pollution Linked to Higher Miscarriage Rates

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The dangerous link between transportation and public health.

It is well-documented that traffic-related air pollution can lead to increased respiratory problems such as asthma. Several recent studies have also shown that emissions from cars, trucks, buses, and other vehicles can damage health in other ways, too. These include decreased brain function, increased heart attack risk, higher premature death rates, increased childhood allergies [PDF] — and now, higher miscarriage rates.

Specifically, nonsmokers and African American women living near busy roads are statistically more likely to miscarry within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, according to a new study, “Residential Exposure to Traffic and Spontaneous Abortion,” published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The study was produced by a team of scientists at the California Environmental Protection Agency, the California Department of Public Health, and the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

The authors examined data collected from women in California and found that pregnant African-American women who lived within 50 meters of heavy traffic were three times more likely to miscarry than African-American women who live in low-traffic areas. Nonsmokers living near busy roads were about 50 percent more likely to miscarry.

Though further studies with larger sample sizes are needed to confirm the findings, this study contributes to the mounting evidence on the harmful effects of traffic-related air pollution. It provides one more among a list of reasons to create a transportation system that pollutes much less than today’s system. Federal, state and local transportation policy needs to provide incentives to clean up dirty diesel engines, reduce traffic congestion, offer cleaner transportation choices, and generally create a more efficient and less polluting transportation system for people and freight.

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