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Air Pollution Identified as Risk Factor in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

For Immediate Release: 
Friday, July 11, 1997

Washington, D.C. -- About 500 cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in the United States each year are associated with microscopic airborne particles of soot (particulate matter), a new study has found. Particulate matter (PM10) was found to be associated with nearly one out of every five of the SIDS deaths in 12 major metropolitan areas where SIDS and particulate air pollution are especially severe. The Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago metropolitan areas lead the nation in SIDS cases linked to toxic, airborne soot, with an estimated 44, 28, and 27 SIDS cases (respectively) associated with particulate pollution (PM10) in 1994.

Regulations recently announced by President Clinton would cut levels of the pollutant by about half over the next decade. A number of influential members of Congress have vowed to overturn the decision, however, with strong backing from industries that would bear the brunt of the pollution reduction.

"Particulate air pollution should be considered a risk factor for SIDS, and as a society we owe it to parents and their infants to reduce this exposure as much as possible," said Howard Frumkin M.D., an epidemiologist who chairs the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Emory University. Frumkin appeared at a press conference here today to release the study on behalf of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), which prepared the study with the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

The new estimate is based on risk factors developed by a recently published, peer-reviewed study that examined the relationship between particulate air pollution and the survival of 4 million infants born in 86 U.S. cities between 1989 and 1991 (Woodruff et al. 1997). The Woodruff study found that babies had a 12 percent greater chance of SIDS for every 10 microgram increase of PM10 in the air.

The report released today applies these risk factors to reported SIDS cases and air pollution levels (PM10) for 1994, in order to derive an estimate of the number of SIDS cases associated with this microscopic soot in the air in major metro areas and the nation as a whole.

The precise cause of SIDS remains unknown. Particulate air pollution is just one of several risk factors for SIDS. Others include maternal smoking, temperature, and sleep position of the baby.

"Airborne particulate pollution is one more risk factor that may tip the balance against the survival of an infant that otherwise is perfectly healthy and well cared for," said Cynthia Bearer, M.D. and neonatologist at Case Western Reserve University.

The Environmental Working Group is a non profit environmental and public policy research organization in Washington D.C. This and all of EWG's reports can be found on the world wide web at

Physicians for Social Responsibility is a national organization of over 15,000 health care professionals and supporters working to address the public health effects of weapons of mass destruction, environmental degradation, and community violence. PSR is a member of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW).

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