‘Racism is a risk factor’ for climate-crisis induced pregnancy problems

  • 06/24/2020 10:39 am ET Nathan Kauffman
descriptive image of pregnant woman

Dexter Chatuluka / Unsplash

Pregnant women exposed to air pollution or high temperatures are more likely to give birth to babies who are underweight, premature, or stillborn according to a survey of over a decade of research.

The risks were even greater for Black mothers, as The New York Times Explains:

The research adds to a growing body of evidence that minorities bear a disproportionate share of the danger from pollution and global warming. Not only are minority communities in the United States far more likely to be hotter than the surrounding areas, a phenomenon known as the “heat island” effect, but they are also more likely to be located near polluting industries.

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

The study, published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, analyzed 68 studies covering nearly 33 million births since 2007, of which 84% found air pollution and heat to be risk factors. The vast majority of studies that assessed air pollution found ozone and PM 2.5, both of which were becoming more common due to climate change, are impacting poor pregnancy outcomes.

In the last two months, the Trump administration has sought to rollback standards for car and power plant emissions and declined to strengthen PM 2.5 regulations. Premature birth and low birth rate can have lifelong consequences, including impacts on brain development and vulnerability to disease.

“Race is not a risk factor,” Linda Blount, head of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, said during a webinar Friday. “Racism is a risk factor. And now we add a new stressor to that intersection: climate, specifically heat.”

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