Approximately One Million Stillbirths Each Year Linked to Pollution

Air pollution linked to stillbirths; reducing emissions could prevent fatalities.

Stillbirths are a tragic reality for many families around the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), stillbirth is defined as the death of a foetus after 28 weeks of gestation, before it has been delivered. Studies have shown that stillbirths are often attributable to pre-existing medical conditions, prenatal infections, and complications during labour. However, recent research has linked air pollution to stillbirths, with an estimated one million stillbirths occurring each year due to environmental pollution.

Devastating Findings

The study, which was published in Nature Communications, reveals a strong link between maternal exposure to pollution and stillbirths. Focusing on Asia, Africa, and Latin America, which witness 98% of all stillbirths, the study is a groundbreaking look at the repercussions of air quality on foetal health. With hard data from over 45,000 births, the findings are the first to connect high levels of fine particulate pollution—known as PM2.5—to an increased risk of stillbirth.

PM2.5, previously detected in placentas, is now found in the lungs and brains of developing foetuses, painting a grim picture of prenatal health amid increasingly toxic urban environments. The placenta provides oxygen and nutrients to the foetus, as well as removes waste products. In 2021, the World Health Organization's safety benchmark for PM2.5 was breached by nearly all mothers, with a shocking 99% breathing in significantly higher doses of the hazardous airborne particles. Tragically, this severe level of air pollution is directly correlated with a staggering 830,000 stillbirths—a whopping 40% of global cases.

The scientists at Peking University, led by Dr. Tao Xue, propose that meeting the air quality targets set by the World Health Organization could significantly reduce the chance of stillbirths. They emphasise that while many current efforts to prevent stillbirth focus on medical advancements, the often-unseen environmental risk factors play a substantial role.

“Clean air policies, implemented in several countries including China, have the power to prevent stillbirths," the scientists point out. They also suggest that personal measures like wearing masks, using air purifiers, and avoiding outdoor air pollution could offer additional protection to expectant mothers.

Diesel Emissions and Their Negative Contribution

Diesel emissions are a major contributor to air pollution. Diesel engines are widely used in transportation and power generation. PM is divided into two categories: PM10 and PM2.5, with the latter being more harmful due to its smaller size, which enables it to penetrate deep into the lungs and cause damage. NOx emissions from diesel engines are another significant contributor to air pollution. These emissions react with other compounds in the atmosphere to form ozone, which is harmful to human health. Ozone can induce inflammation in the respiratory system, damage lung cells, and exacerbate asthma.

The Volkswagen (VW) Dieselgate scandal shed light on the health and environmental impacts of diesel emissions. In 2015, VW admitted to using illegal software in its diesel cars, which gave them a false emission reading and allowed them to bypass emissions standards. Renault, Vauxhall, and BMW emissions were also investigated, among other car manufacturers. The scandal exposed the reality of diesel emissions and increased public concern regarding their impact on the environment and human health, resulting in billions of fines and thousands of diesel emission claims. More information can be found on

Prevention and Mitigation

The study findings highlight the critical need for preventive measures to reduce the impact of pollution on human health. The initiatives of governments and manufacturers to reduce diesel emissions are necessary to tackle air pollution and protect public health. However, progress has been slow, and some countries have yet to take action. Air pollution causes significant damage to human health and the environment in the EEA region, causing more than 400,000 premature deaths annually.

Individual-level measures can include simple things like using public transport or carpooling instead of driving alone, planting trees, and using indoor air filters at home to reduce exposure to polluted air. At the community level, policymakers need to enforce regulations to control the emissions of pollutants from factories and power plants. Additionally, the use of cleaner energy sources like renewable energy, electric cars, and bicycles can help reduce air pollution.

Bottom Line

The link between air pollution and maternal and child health is clear. The study underscores the urgency of meeting WHO air quality guidelines, which the scientists believe could avert a significant portion of stillbirths. While healthcare advancements remain crucial, the focus must broaden to include environmental safeguards that are currently less prioritised but could offer substantial protection.

Urgent action is needed to address this global problem and protect the health of pregnant women and their unborn babies. This includes reducing diesel emissions through stricter regulations, promoting clean energy alternatives, holding manufacturers to account for diesel claims, and increasing public awareness of the harmful effects of pollution.


This Press Releases is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical or environmental advice. The data and findings mentioned are based on specific studies and may not apply universally. Readers should consult professional advisors or authorities for advice related to their specific circumstances. We do not endorse any specific actions or products mentioned herein.

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