Prenatal exposure to particulate air pollution and gestational age at delivery in Massachusetts neonates 2001-2015: A perspective of causal modeling and health disparities

Environ Epidemiol. 2020 Sep 14;4(5):e113. doi: 10.1097/EE9.0000000000000113. eCollection 2020 Oct.


There is a lack of evidence on causal effects of air pollution on gestational age (GA) at delivery.

Methods: Inverse probability weighting (IPW) quantile regression was applied to derive causal marginal population-level GA reduction for GA percentiles associated with increased ambient particulate matter with diameter <2.5 μm (PM2.5) levels at maternal residential address for each trimester and the month preceding delivery using Massachusetts birth registry 2001 to 2015. Stratified analyses were conducted for neonatal sex, maternal age/race/education, and extreme ambient temperature conditions.

Results: For neonates at 2.5th, 10th, 25th, 50th, 75th, and 97.5th percentiles of GA at delivery, we estimated an adjusted GA reduction of 4.2 days (95% confidence interval [CI] = 3.4, 5.0), 1.9 days (1.6, 2.1), 1.2 days (1.0, 1.4), 0.82 days (0.72, 0.92), 0.74 days (0.54, 0.94), and 0.54 days (0.15, 0.93) for each 5 μg/m3 increment in third trimester average PM2.5 levels. Final gestational month average exposure yielded a similar effect with greater magnitude. Male neonates and neonates of younger (younger than 35 years) and African American mothers as well as with high/low extreme temperature exposure in third trimester were more affected. Estimates were consistently higher at lower GA percentiles, indicating preterm/early-term births being more affected. Low-exposure analyses yielded similar results, restricting to areas with PM2.5 levels under US ambient annual standard of 12 μg/m3.

Conclusions: Prenatal exposure to PM2.5 in late pregnancy reduced GA at delivery among Massachusetts neonates, especially among preterm/early-term births, male neonates, and neonates of younger and African American mothers. Exposure to extremely high/low temperature amplifies the effect of PM2.5 on GA.

Keywords: Air pollution; Gestational age; Health disparity; Inverse probability weighting; Quantile regression; Temperature.