How To Shrink a Fetus: Add Air Pollution

fetus2.jpgAs if we need more compelling reasons to clean up the air… A new study finds that exposure to air pollution significantly reduces the size of human fetuses. Ten years of research by scientists from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia and the Environmental Protection Agency in the US compared 15,000 ultrasound scans, and correlated fetus size with air pollution levels. The study was conducted within a 9-mile radius of the Australian city of Brisbane and found that mothers with a higher exposure to air pollution had fetuses that were, on average, smaller in terms of abdominal circumference, head circumference and femur length. "Birth weight is a major predictor of later health," says Dr Adrian Barnett of QUT, "bigger babies have been shown to have higher IQs in childhood and lower risk of cardiovascular disease in adulthood." Most of Brisbane's air pollution level comes from cars and trucks… As if we needed more reasons to rethink them.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.