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Study Links Air Pollution, Increased Infant-Mortality Rate

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Infants who live in areas with high levels of industrial soot are 40 percent more likely to die before their first birthdays from respiratory failure than infants who live in areas with cleaner air, according to a new federal study.

Recent studies have linked air pollution with increased adult-mortality rates, but this is believed to be the first major study that describes the impact of air pollution on any of the nation's children.

In an effort to understand better the health effects of pollution on infants, a team of federal researchers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Center for Health Statistics, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed the health records of nearly 4 million infants born between 1989 and 1991 in 86 metropolitan areas representing every region of the country.

The researchers looked at infants who were in the postneonatal stage--between 1 month old and age 1--because a baby who dies after his or her first month is thought to be more affected by the external environment than are infants who perish earlier, says the study published this month in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Stricter Rules Sought

After factoring in differences in the health, marital status, education level, and race of the mother--and whether she smoked--the study also found that those infants who were exposed to a high level of environmental pollution were 26 percent more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome than babies who lived in metropolitan areas with low pollution levels.

"This analysis indicates that particulate matter may influence an infant's chance of survival," the report says.

The study comes as the EPA is attempting to set stricter clean-air standards for smog and soot. Many environmental advocates say that the study clearly demonstrates the need for such revisions.

"This science suggests strongly that air pollution is killing infants," said Frank O'Donnell, the executive director of the Clean Air Trust, a Washington-based environmental group.

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