Sunderland, U.K. – Traffic pollution may have an effect on the respiratory health of unborn children, according to new research in the United Kingdom.

Dr. Mohammad Sahmssian and a research team at the University of Sunderland have completed a study on the impact high levels of traffic pollution have on children’s respiratory systems, allergies and conditions such as asthma.

Sahmssian tested the lung functions of 1,397 children aged seven to ten in Cairo, one of the world’s most congested cities. He discovered a high prevalence of asthma, wheezing, eczema and hay fever symptoms. He has been researching findings in other countries and discovered that air pollution causes two million premature deaths worldwide each year. He is now calling on the U.K. Department of Health and Research Funding Council to conduct more surveys in major cities such as London, Manchester and Newcastle.

“We have identified that pollutants such as nitrogen and sulphur dioxide, as well as particle matter from vehicle exhausts and road dust, is linked to the onset of asthma,” Dr. Sahmssian said. “The risk can start from the time a child is in the womb, as the placenta does not offer protection to mothers exposed to pollutants. Pollutants entering the fetal circulation have a significant impact on growth and development. There have also been cases of babies born with retardation, morbidity and low birth weight. Children in homes near roads with heavy traffic also have increased risk of new onset asthma, incidence of wheeze, risk of recurrent dry coughs, hospitalization and school absenteeism.”

Dr. Sahmssian cited studies in Southern California that show if ambient air pollution is reduced, annual asthma-related emergency visits and hospitalization decreased from 22 per cent to six per cent, and bronchitis would decrease from 40 to 20 per cent.