A landmark study from Aberdeen University has shown that exposure to air pollution is linked to the stunting of babies’ growth during pregnancy.
A smaller gestational birth size is associated with conditions later in life, including, coronary artery disease, type two diabetes and asthma.
Paediatrician, Professor Steve Turner, who led the study, said: “The Government has taken action to improve health with tobacco and there are rising concerns about food and alcohol. The next public health beast is tackling air pollution."
Turner continued: “Anything that increases air toxicity is putting peoples’ health at risk. A bigger airport would mean a greater amount of combustible fuels from planes and cars which would intensify exposure. The less fossil fuel we burn the better for future health.”
Bristol Airport, owned and run by the Canadian-based Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan is seeking permission to handle up to 12 million passengers annually by 2025 with a potential to increase to 20 million.
The expansion would mean 97,373 aircraft movements in a 12-month calendar period: a flight almost every three minutes and an average of 9,500 extra vehicle movements every day.
Talullah Gaylard, 31, of Wrington, who is eight months pregnant, said: "I can take multi-vitamins, not drink alcohol, go to pregnancy yoga but air pollution is completely out of my control. I don’t want a massive expansion at Bristol Airport that is going to impact on my child’s health. My brother hasn’t flown for the last seven years because he believes it is unsustainable.”
Legislation and taxation
The Aberdeen University scientists reviewed more than ten years of global research to establish the extent to which mothers’ exposures to air pollution affects foetal growth.
They discovered evidence that nitrogen dioxide – primarily generated by vehicle traffic, resulted in smaller foetal head size in the last three months of pregnancy.
Professor Turner added: “It could possibly happen before the last trimester but we would not be able to monitor this. The air pollution studies were from Australia, the USA and countries in Europe. In all, the evidence was clear that in the third trimester, exposure to nitrogen dioxide reduced foetal growth.
“There is nothing a pregnant mum can do about air pollution – you can eat healthily, exercise and reduce stress but you can’t do anything about the quality of air you breathe, or your unborn child takes in. Nobody knows the baseline of the amount of pollution that can cause harm. This needs legislation, taxation and someone to champion cleaner air.”
Professor Turner called for public health measures to minimise pregnant women’s’ risks.
Wrington Parish Councillor Donna Robertson, said: “Bristol Airport seems to be tinkering around the edges of the environment with bland PR about litter pick-ups and paper cups. This is about a serious danger to health and not just in our own backyard.
“If the airport expands and permanent airspace change proposals are agreed, a greater number of communities in Somerset will be flown over by thousands more planes. Approaches and descents will start from many other directions across the region, affecting wide areas of the South West.
“This can be viewed on the Civil Aviation Authority website under Permanent Airspace Change Proposal CAP 1616, Bristol. Along with this, millions more cars will pour through the region.
“It is imperative District Councillors and the Government stop this expansion, not only for the environment and climate change but for public health.”
Melanie Greenwood is a freelance journalist.