Airborne PM2.5 chemical components and low birth weight in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic regions of the United States

Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Dec;120(12):1746-52. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1104763. Epub 2012 Sep 20.


Background: Previous studies on air pollutants and birth outcomes have reported inconsistent results. Chemical components of particulate matter ≤ 2.5 µm (PM2.5) composition are spatially -heterogeneous, which might contribute to discrepancies across PM2.5 studies.

Objectives: We explored whether birth weight at term is affected by PM2.5, PM10 (PM ≤ 10 µm), and gaseous pollutants.

Methods: We calculated exposures during gestation and each trimester for PM2.5 chemical components, PM10, PM2.5, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and sulfur dioxide for births in 2000-2007 for states in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic United States. Associations between exposures and risk of low birth weight (LBW) were adjusted by family and individual characteristics and region. Interaction terms were used to investigate whether risk differs by race or sex.

Results: Several PM2.5 chemical components were associated with LBW. Risk increased 4.9% (95% CI: 3.4, 6.5%), 4.7% (3.2, 6.2%), 5.7% (2.7, 8.8%), and 5.0% (3.1, 7.0%) per interquartile range increase of PM2.5 aluminum, elemental carbon, nickel, and titanium, respectively. Other PM2.5 chemical components and gaseous pollutants showed associations, but were not statistically significant in multipollutant models. The trimester associated with the highest relative risk differed among pollutants. Effect estimates for PM2.5 elemental carbon and nickel were higher for infants of white mothers than for those of African-American mothers, and for males than females.

Conclusions: Most exposure levels in our study area were in compliance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air pollution standards; however, we identified associations between PM2.5 components and LBW. Findings suggest that some PM2.5 components may be more harmful than others, and that some groups may be particularly susceptible.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Pollutants / analysis
  • Air Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Birth Weight / drug effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Logistic Models
  • Maternal Exposure
  • Mid-Atlantic Region / epidemiology
  • New England / epidemiology
  • Particle Size*
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • Particulate Matter / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology*
  • Southeastern United States / epidemiology


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter