, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 183-199

Exposure to ambient air pollution and prenatal and early childhood health effects

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Over the last years, concern for the possible influence of exposure to air pollutants in children during gestation or the first years of life has grown; exposure levels which may be reached nowadays in our dwellings and in our streets. In the present study evidence over the possible impact of ambient air pollution on the foetus and the infants (i.e.: less than 1 year) published during the last decade, 1994–2003, are revised. Studies on infant mortality and exposure to particles show an outstanding consistence in the magnitude of the effects, despite the different designs used. As a whole, data show that an increase in 10 μg/m3of particle concentration (measured as PM10) is associated with to about 5% increase in post-neonatal mortality for all causes and around 22% for post-neonatal mortality for respiratory diseases. Regarding damage in foetal health, although results are not always consistent, most studies show associations with exposure to air pollution during pregnancy. However, the precise mechanisms of action of air pollutants on adverse reproductive results are still unknown, so is the period of exposure most relevant during pregnancy and the specific pollutant which may represent a higher risk. Follow-up studies evaluating personal exposure to different air pollutants are required, allowing for the adequate evaluation of the impact of each pollutant in different periods of pregnancy, as well as providing hypotheses on their possible mechanisms of action.