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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Texas A&M: Study Shows Severe Air Pollution Can Cause Birth Defects, Death

Researchers from Texas A&M University including Dr. Natalie Johnson, assistant professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, have determined that harmful particulate matter in the atmosphere can produce birth defects and even fatalities during pregnancy using the animal model.

The research team that also included colleagues from the University of California-San Diego had their findings published in the current issue of PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

Using female rats, the team examined the adverse health effects of exposure to fine particulate matter consisting of ammonium sulfate commonly found in many locations around the world. Large fractions of this substance were detected not only in Asia, but also in Houston (51 percent) and Los Angeles (31 percent).

Results showed significant impacts on female pregnant rats though it is unclear yet what is causing these profound effects, but the research team speculates that the size of nanoparticles or even the acidity may be the culprit.

Sulfate is mainly produced from coal burning, which is a major energy source for much of the world in both developed and developing countries. Ammonium is derived from ammonia, which is produced from agricultural, automobile and animal emissions.

The team’s study shows definitive proof of decreased fetal survival rates, and also shortened gestation rates that can result in smaller body weight, in addition to damage to brains, hearts and other organs in the adult rat models.

The study was funded by grants from the Tier One Program (TOP) at Texas A&M, the Robert A. Welch Foundation, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).