Researchers at UCLA and USC estimate in a study released Wednesday that pregnant women who are exposed to high levels of ultrafine particles from jet airplane exhaust are 14% more likely to have a preterm birth — before 37 weeks of pregnancy — than those exposed to lower levels.

Researchers said they examined records for more than 174,000 births between 2008 and 2016 for women living within nine miles of Los Angeles International Airport, in an area that includes neighborhoods in Los Angeles, El Segundo, Hawthorne, Inglewood and several other communities inland from LAX.

“The data suggest that airplane pollution contributes to preterm births above and beyond the main source of air pollution in this area, which is traffic,” said Dr. Beate Ritz, a professor in the departments of epidemiology and environmental health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

Researchers could not confirm how much time the pregnant women may have spent at home being exposed to airport ultrafine particle pollution or whether they lived in climate-controlled homes with indoor air filtering systems, and noted that time spent outside the home or farther away from the airport could have also affected their exposure levels.

Future studies could be done to explore whether similar associations are seen in pregnant women living near other airports around the world, Ritz said in an article on the study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Preterm birth is associated with complications including immature lungs, slow weight gain, poor feeding and difficulty regulating body temperature, according to researchers.

The research team was co-led by Ritz and Scott Fruin of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. The study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

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