Emily DeFranco, DO.

Emily DeFranco, DO

Exposure to high levels of small particle air pollution is associated with an increased risk of preterm birth — before 37 weeks of pregnancy, according to a study published online Jan. 15, 2016, in the journal Environmental Health.

The study, by researchers at Cincinnati Children’s and the University of Cincinnati, identified a 19 percent increased risk, with the greatest risk when high exposure occurred during the third trimester of pregnancy. Preterm birth rates were higher among mothers exposed to above-standard levels of airborne particle pollution, as well as among mothers 40 or older, black mothers, and women with no prenatal care or with lower education level.

“Although the risk increase is modest, the potential impact is robust, as all pregnant women are potentially at risk,” says Emily DeFranco, DO, a physician-researcher at the Center for Prevention of Preterm Birth at Cincinnati Children’s. “We estimate that decreasing the amount of particulate matter in the air below the EPA’s standard threshold could decrease preterm birth in women exposed to high levels of small particulates by about 17 percent, which corresponds to a 2.22 percent decrease in the preterm birth rate in the population as a whole.”