Air pollution in eastern Europe stunts the growth of babies in the womb, according to new research by American, Polish and Czech scientists. Toxic particles from coal fires, vehicles and factories in Poland and the Czech Republic could also damage the development of the brain in young children.
American researchers argue that children born in polluted areas of America and western Europe may face similar risks. "It is a cause for concern which we are planning to investigate," says Frederica Perera from Columbia University School of Public Health in New York.
At a conference in Budapest last week, Perera revealed that Polish babies exposed to high levels of PM10s, particles less than ten micrometres in diameter, were born with small heads and bodies. As a result their subsequent ability to learn, their performance in school and their intelligence could suffer, she says. The children are also likely to run an enhanced risk of cancer.