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Health, Science & Environment

Doctors Explore Pregnancy-Pollution Links

Judy Fahys

Doctors offered a public tutorial Thursday on the dangers pollution poses to pregnant women, and they gave suggestions on protecting mothers and their babies.

Members of the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment kicked-off a yearlong public education campaign with the discussion at the downtown Salt Lake City Library. They say new and expecting parents, their doctors and policy makers need to understand pollution risks and how to reduce them

“I think our goal is to say we don’t know who and which babies are going to be affected – the majority of babies are going to be fine as best we can measure them as they come out,” said Kirtly Jones, a fertility doctor with University Health Care. “But our job is to make it healthy for all children.”

The doctors say about 40,000 Utah women are pregnant at any given time, so it’s important to reduce pollution exposure. And they cited studies linking dirty air to fertility problems, birth defects and fetal development.

“Kinda scary – learning all the things that can happen to pregnant women and their babies,” said Megan Vange, who attended with her husband, Christopher, and 5-month-old daughter, Phoebe. “But it was also useful hearing things you can do in your own home in your car to protect yourself.”

The doctors challenged the state health department’s position that current research fails to show that poor air quality increases birth defects and other negative pregnancy outcomes.

Alfred Romeo is a nurse with Utah’s Pregnancy Risk Line who’s part of a health department team that meets weekly to review health studies.

“It was great that they brought up this issue,” said Romeo, who heard Thursday about a few new and  interesting studies. “We all want cleaner air so we have healthier pregnancies.”

Romeo says research shows the risk of preterm birth because of pollution is statistically negligible, 1.03. In contrast, studies consistently find mothers who work over 40 hours a weeks have double the risk of preterm birth. The risk is quadrupled for doctors in training and 17 times as high for a woman who is African American.

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