Before They Are Even Breathing, Air Pollution Can Hurt Babies’ Health
It was back in the late 1980s, as an OB-GYN in South Los Angeles, that Robin Johnson, M.D., says she first understood how important a mother’s breathing can be to her unborn baby. One of her patients had asthma so bad it landed her in the hospital three to four times a month.
“She eventually delivered, and delivered early,” Johnson says, though the baby was almost at term. What surprised the doctor was that, though the mother was of normal stature and not really sickly, “she ended up having this little four-pound baby.”
Today, Johnson teaches at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and is a fellow with the Reach the Decision Makers Training Program, created by the National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health at UC San Francisco. Her project: To convince the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to look at birth outcomes when setting environmental policy. The agency says they do consider birth outcomes in the “science assessment phase” of National Ambient Air Quality Standard reviews, but confirms that birth outcomes aren’t taken into account when analyzing costs and benefits of setting a new National Ambient Air Quality Standard.
“Women and children are always the last variable that is thought about,” Johnson says. “It’s up to us to say, Hey, wait a minute, we’re where it starts! When you talk about the chicken and the egg, we’re both.”
Around 150,000 babies are born in L.A. County every year, and when they are born to mothers breathing polluted air they are up to 30% more likely to be premature or underweight, studies over the past decade show. Research out last month from a team at USC, UC Davis and Childrens Hospital L.A. also found they could have double the risk of autism. Click to read more about air pollution in utero …