Exposure to polluted air can dramatically increase the risks that a woman will have a miscarriage within a week of a bad air day, a worrying new report reveals.
Air quality in the US has improved dramatically since 1990, when climate change and pollution really began to be part of the public conversation.
But more than four out of every 10 people in the US still live in areas where the air outside their homes is often too polluted to breath.
And even a brief period of pollution exposure can have dramatic effects on the body, including raising the risks pregnant woman will have a miscarriage by 16 per cent, University of Utah scientists report.
Industrial processes, cars and other fossil fuels have wreaked havoc on our air - and now our air is hurting our health too.
On average, everyone on Earth loses about 2.6 years of life due to the damage air pollution does to us. In some place, it’s as many as eight years.
Pollution is bad for just about every part of the body. It makes the lungs work harder and damages their cells.
It makes the heart work harder, increases the risks of birth defects and that women will have premature babies.
And now, the new University of Utah study has found that living in polluted areas raises the risks that women will lose their pregnancies altogether.
Before he even conducted his research, lead study author Dr Matthew Fuller noticed a worrying, anecdotal trend when he moved to Utah.
‘Not being from Salt Lake originally, I noticed a pattern in the relation to air quality and pregnancy loss,’ said Dr Fuller, an assistant professor of surgery.
‘I knew this was an understudied question so we decided to dig deeper.’
He and his team reviewed data on 1,300 women that came to the emergency room at the University of Utah, seeking care after miscarrying between 2007 and 2015.
They compared the incidence of miscarriages to the levels of ozone, nitrogen and fine particulate matter (PM2 2.5) in the air on the preceding days.
After carefully controlling for all other miscarriage risk factors, there were 16 per cent more miscarriages in the three to seven days when air quality was particularly poor in Salt Lake City, Utah - which, at the time of publication had the worst air in all of North America.
‘This is the first time that that we’ve shown that such short term exposures have such lasting consequences,’ Dr Fuller told Daily Mail Online.
There are some measures women who are pregnant or want to conceive can take to protect themselves and their developing babies - but they are minimal, Dr Fuller says.
Though indoor air can be as bad as or worse than outdoor air, installing a HEPPA air filtration system can reduce exposure - but comes with an average price tag of $2,507.
Aside from that, women who are not yet pregnant can try to plan to conceive in during a season when air quality is better, so they are at less risk of losing the pregnancy in the vulnerable first trimester.
But in Salt Lake City, for example, that’s a short window in the spring time, since some pollution is worst there in the summer, and other kinds are at their highest levels in the winter.
‘It’s a really scary thing,’ said Dr Fuller.
‘If we reduced poor air quality, we would at least remove that one independent factor for miscarriage.’