Harmful particulate matter (PM) in the atmosphere may lead to birth defects and even fatalities during pregnancy, according to a study conducted in mice.
Researchers at Texas A&M University in the US examined the adverse health effects of exposure to fine PM consisting of ammonium sulphate commonly found worldwide.
During winter months in India and China, severe haze events frequently occur. Fine PM levels are especially high at several hundred microgrammes per cubic metre.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nine out of 10 people worldwide breathe air containing a high level of pollutants.
One out of every nine global deaths can be attributed to exposure to air pollution, totalling over seven million premature deaths a year, researchers said.
It is typically believed that ammonium sulphate may not be very toxic, but researchers show large impacts on female pregnant rats.
They claim that it is unclear yet what is causing these effects, but speculate that the size of nano-particles or the acidity may be responsible.
Numerous previous studies have shown that air pollution is a serious public health threat throughout the world, with millions of people breathing air that is far less than the standards set by the WHO. Previous studies have shown such pollution to impair metabolic and immune systems in animal offspring.
This study shows definitive proof of decreased foetal survival rates, and also shortened gestation rates that can result in smaller body weight, in addition to the damage to brains, hearts and other organs in the adult rat models.