Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Traffic pollution hazardous to unborn babies -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

Traffic pollution hazardous to unborn babies

AM - Thursday, 28 July , 2005 08:20:00

Reporter: Karen Barlow

TONY EASTLEY: A new health study has found that Australian women in areas of high traffic pollution
are risking giving birth to smaller, more sickly, babies. The researchers looked at 138,000 babies,
their birth weights and development.

The study confirms the results of similar studies in the United States, Asia and Europe, as Karen
Barlow reports.

KAREN BARLOW: Researchers at New South Wales Health looked at all births in the Sydney area for a
three-year period between 1998 and 2000. The birth weights of 138,056 babies were compared with air
pollution levels at different times through the pregnancies.

Senior policy analyst with New South Wales Health, Dr Vicky Sheppeard, says there was an adverse
impact on birth weight when the air pollution levels were high on average.

But she says high can be just another day in a big city.

VICKY SHEPPEARD: It's the kinds of levels that we'd encounter regularly in Sydney, and there is a
variation from season to season and month to month. So they're not above our air pollution
standards, but they're just higher on average than at other times when the air was clear.

KAREN BARLOW: So these aren't outstanding days?

VICKY SHEPPEARD: No, no, and we're also averaging over a period of time - a month or a whole
trimester of pregnancy.

KAREN BARLOW: And are these pollution levels that can be experienced along any major route in a big
city like Sydney?

VICKY SHEPPEARD: Well, they're the levels that are measured at the monitoring stations. So we have
around 13 or 14 monitoring stations around Sydney. So that's where we took the readings from.

KAREN BARLOW: Would you say these levels are comparable with any other major city in Australia?

VICKY SHEPPEARD: Uh, they're very similar.

KAREN BARLOW: Babies were found to be up to 34 grams lighter due to the effects of carbon monoxide,
nitrogen dioxide and air particles. But on average the babies exposed to high levels of air
pollution were about 12 grams lighter.

Dr Vicky Sheppeard says smaller babies are at higher risk.

VICKY SHEPPEARD: It just makes them more susceptible to complications. They don't quite have the...
sometimes they don't quite have the resistance to infections or other complications around birth if
their birth weight is lower.

KAREN BARLOW: Other possible factors for low birth weight were taken out of the equation, such as
mothers smoking and not having proper antenatal care. But air pollution is hard for an individual
to control.

Dr Vicky Sheppeard again.

VICKY SHEPPEARD: Well, the most important thing is to improve the factors that the pregnant woman
does have control over, and then the general community can contribute to reducing air pollution
through reducing the use of motor vehicles and other factors like that.

TONY EASTLEY: Senior policy analyst with New South Wales Health, Dr Vicky Sheppeard, ending that
report from Karen Barlow.