A report released this week has found a “disturbingly strong correlation” between winter air pollution in Ulaanbaatar and early fetal deaths.
In a paper published in the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, researchers report “alarmingly strong statistical correlations” between seasonal ambient air pollutants and pregnancy loss in Mongolia’s capital.
Researchers from the Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Mongolian National University and National Center for Maternal and Child Health conducted the study – the first of its kind in the country. The researchers identified burning coal in winter ger stoves as a major source of the city’s toxic air pollutants.
While overall rate of miscarriages in UB occur in some 15 to 20 percent of all pregnancies, and not unlike that of Western countries, rates of spontaneous abortion incidence per calendar month increased from 23 per 1,000 live births in May to 73 per 1,000 live births by December 2011.
Ulaanbaatar has emerged as one of the most air polluted capital cities in the world, with particle matter (PM) 2.5 levels reaching over 20 times World Health Organization (WHO) standards during winter months.
The researchers would note that average monthly ambient levels of air pollution showed increases in early mornings, and late evenings – during colder temperatures, when ger stoves are used most.
Recent studies conducted in China, Iran and Brazil found that levels of CO may interfere with tissue oxygenation levels in the early stages of pregnancy, a leading cause of fetal death.
Researchers noted that while Mongolia’s Ministry of Environment and Green Development has made some major policy strides in recent years in curbing air pollution, “the disturbingly strong correlation between air pollution indices and fetal death… suggests that much more needs to be done to further ameliorate the toxic effects of air pollution on the human unborn.”
The researchers estimate that up to five-fold further reduction in air pollutants in winter will be needed to reduce fetal death rates to levels found in Ulaanbaatar’s summer season, yet emphasize that even in summer the level of early-term miscarriages remains “unacceptably high”.
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