Pregnant women near urban green spaces breathe easier

According to as new study by researchers from Barcelona, Spain, living in homes surrounded by grass and trees can reduce pregnant women’s exposures to traffic-related air pollution. As green space around their homes increased, their exposure to fine particles and nitric oxides decreased. Particles and gases in vehicle exhaust can affect the development and health of foetuses, so this study suggests that green space in urban neighbourhoods has a health benefit. Pregnant women who live in city neighbourhoods with more grass and trees were exposed to lower levels of particulate air pollution than pregnant women with little vegetation around their homes, found a study from Barcelona, Spain. Exposures were lower even when the women spent more time outside. The conclusions are important because exposure to traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy can affect foetal development and health at birth. These can include low birth weight, heart deformities and infant mortality. The recent study is one of the first to examine the effects of urban green spaces around homes on the residents’ exposure to particulate pollutants. The findings suggest it may be important to build green areas in cities as a way to reduce exposure to the traffic-related pollutants. To investigate the connection between green space and exposure, researchers compared vegetation surrounding the homes of 54 pregnant women with their personal exposure to two traffic-related air pollutants. Satellite images were used to calculate the amount of surrounding vegetation, including grass, bushes and trees. For up to a week, the women wore small devices that measured nitric oxides and particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5). in addition, the two pollutants were measured in specific locations inside and outside the homes. Participants recorded their location and activities in a diary. As green space surrounding the home increased, exposure to PM2.5 pollution decreased. Lower exposure levels could be due to the lower home indoor PM2.5 levels in greener areas, considering that participants spent an average of 73 percent of their time at home. Additionally, women with more green space nearby spent more time outside – an average of 12 minutes more per day – where the pollution levels were lower than indoors. Nitric oxides showed similar but weaker results. The use of personal monitors to measure air pollution was a strength of this study. But the method for identifying green space did not distinguish among types of vegetation, for example, trees versus grasses. Trees are known to reduce air pollutants more than grasses or small plants. Overall, the results suggest having green space around homes can cut exposures to air pollution and provide benefits to residents’ health.

Environmental Health News, 24 September 2012 ; ;