Climate Change, Air Pollution Linked To Pregnancy Risks That Disproportionately Affect Black Mothers

June 24, 2020  |  

Pregnant woman out and about

Source: electravk / Getty

A study published last week in the JAMA Network Open found that pregnant women who were exposed to higher temperatures and air pollution are more likely to birth babies that are premature, underweight, or stillborn. Worse, researchers found that African American moms and children are harmed by these environmental factors at a higher rate.

“We already know that these pregnancy outcomes are worse for black women,” said Rupa Basu, the study’s co-author and chief of the air and climate epidemiological section for the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in California. “It’s even more exacerbated by these exposures.”

It’s no secret that minority communities are more heavily impacted by global warming and are more likely to be located in close proximity to polluting industries, but this new research depicts an even more troubling picture as a clearer image of the harmful consequences come into focus. In examining 57 studies published since 2007, researchers found a clear relationship between birth outcomes in America and heat exposure as well as air pollution.

Higher temperatures were linked to premature births and low birth weights. Further, researchers found a correlation between every increase in temperature by 1 degree Celcius in the week before delivery with a six percent increased likelihood of stillbirth between the months of May and September.

“Black moms matter,” said Bruce Bekkar, who is one of the co-authors of the study, a board member with the Climate Action Campaign, and a retired gynecologist. “It’s time to really be paying attention to the groups that are especially vulnerable.”

Researchers also found that exposure to higher rates of air pollution in the third trimester was associated with a 42 percent increased risk of stillbirth.

This is a moment of reckoning for racial injustice and health disparities,” Catherine Garcia Flowers of the Moms Clean Air Force told the New York Times. “Doing nothing about air pollution, which so clearly has a greater impact on Black Americans, is racism in action.”

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