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Almost a Million Stillbirths Each Year Linked to Air Pollution

According to the first global study, fine particulate matter is responsible for close to one million stillbirths every year. Fine particulate matter pertains to minute particles – they’re known as PM2.5 – which are smaller than 2.5 microns. PM2.5 comes from fossil fuel burning. 


Around 137 countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia were covered by the study. These are areas where almost all stillbirths take place. Although there is already evidence that air pollution increases the risks of stillbirth, the global study is the first to determine the total number of foetal deaths. Data used as the basis for the research came from over 45,000 live births and stillbirths. 

Stillbirths have a profound impact on mothers and affected families. A UNICEF report published in 2020 even described stillbirths as neglected tragedies. As such, preventing stillbirths will help these mothers and boost their health. 

Although the study did not specifically analyse how PM2.5 or small particle pollution can cause stillbirths, it focused on the revelation that dirty air particles were discovered in the brains and lungs of foetuses. It was 2018 when fine pollution particles were first discovered in placentas. At that time, air pollution was already linked to premature births, disturbed brain development, low birth weights, and miscarriages.

Lead scientist Dr. Tao Xue of the Peking University in China said the most important thing right now is to meet the WHO-mandated air quality targets. If this happens, it is possible to prevent a significant number of stillbirths and save mothers and babies. At present, medical service improvements are already being applied to prevent stillbirths but environmental factors, which are typically unseen, have yet to be addressed.

Some countries, such as China, have already implemented clean air policies. The UK also has Clean Air Zones (CAZs) and London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zones (ULEZ). However, it is also important to practice self-protection – using air purifiers, wearing masks, and not going outside when toxic air levels are high. 

The research came out in Nature Communications. It used air pollution and stillbirth data between the years 1998 and 2016. The focus was on low- and middle-income countries such as Nigeria, India, and Pakistan. This data helped determine how many stillbirths can be attributed to fine particulate matter exposure across the countries covered. Researchers took note of the fact that the impact of air pollution was greater on mothers who were more advanced in age.

In 2015, around 2.09 million stillbirths were recorded in the covered countries, 45% or 950,000 of which were linked to excess PM2.5 exposure over the 5μg/m3 level. The PM2.5 WHO-mandated guideline at that time (and until 2021) was 10μg/m3. 

If air pollution levels were brought down to the 10μg/m3 level, around 710,000 stillbirths in a year can be prevented. 

Vehicle emissions

Emissions coming from diesel vehicles are a significant contributor to air pollution. This was made more evident after the Dieselgate scandal first broke out in 2015.

The diesel emissions scandal first broke out when the Volkswagen Group, maker of Volkswagen and Audi vehicles, received a notice of violation from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board. Illegal defeat devices were allegedly found in VW and Audi diesel vehicles that were sold in the American market. 

A defeat device can detect when a vehicle is in testing, and immediately brings down emissions to levels that are within the limits set by the World Health Organization (WHO). So, when the vehicle is in testing conditions, it is, for all intents and purposes, eco-friendly by being emissions-compliant. Once it is brought out of the lab and driven on real-world roads, though, the vehicle emits massive amounts of nitrogen oxide or NOx. 

NOx emissions are dangerous because of their adverse effects on the environment and human health. It forms acid rain, smog, and the pollutant ground-level ozone, which can weaken and damage vegetation.

Nitrogen oxide emissions can also weaken your cognitive abilities making you vulnerable to dementia. Your mental health may also be affected, and you can have more frequent episodes of anxiety and depression.

What the Volkswagen Group gave their customers instead of clean and safe-to-drive vehicles are life-altering health impacts from being exposed to nitrogen oxide. Breathing difficulties, asthma, emphysema, and other respiratory diseases are the common impacts of NOx emissions. Fluid can also develop in your lungs.

Serious health impacts include asphyxiation, chronic lung function reduction, vocal cords spasm, and cardiovascular diseases. Air pollution has also been proven to have caused hundreds of thousands of premature deaths across the world.

Aside from Volkswagen, many other carmakers have potentially also installed defeat devices in their diesel vehicles. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Renault, and Vauxhall are just some of them. Most of these manufacturers deny the allegations against them but continue to pay fines, legal fees, and compensation. Millions of affected vehicles have also been recalled.

What do I do with my diesel claim?

These carmakers should be held responsible for the inconvenience and danger they put their customers through. Bringing forward an emissions claim against them is the best thing to do. If your claim is successful, you will receive compensation.

However, before you can start claiming compensation, you need to verify first if you are qualified to make a diesel claim. Visit to get all the information you need to move your claim forward.

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