A study by the National Health Research Institutes (NHRI) suggested that exposure to air pollution consisting of fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) could heighten the risks of congenital heart defects in infants, and decreased muscle mass and increased body fat in older people.
While the annual average PM2.5 concentration in Taiwan has declined each year, current levels remain unhealthy for certain sensitive groups, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences research fellow Guo Yue-liang (郭育良) said on Monday.
As PM2.5 is lighter, and can stay in the air longer and travel farther, it can penetrate deeply into the lungs or the circulatory system, and studies have also linked particle pollution exposure to increased risk of heart, lung and other respiratory diseases, as well as dementia and diabetes.
The NHRI study analyzed 782 cases of infants with congenital heart defects and 4,692 healthy infants, comparing the particulate matter concentration levels of where their mothers live, and found that particle pollution was generally higher in the places where the mothers of infants with congenital heart defects live.
The third to eighth week of pregnancy is a critical period for fetal heart development, so if the mother was exposed to high concentrations of particulate matter during this time, it could travel through the bloodstream to the placenta and have a negative effect on the infant, Guo said.
The study also analyzed the health exam results of 4,818 older people and found a link between exposure to higher PM2.5 concentrations and decreased muscle mass and increased body fat.
However, a further study of the causal relationship is needed, the NHRI said.
The main sources of outdoor particle pollution are traffic and industrial emissions, as well as outdoor burning, while the main sources of indoor particle pollution are cooking and burning incense, Guo said, adding that the use of an exhaust hood in the kitchen can also affect indoor pollution levels.
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