updated 10/15/2003 6:04:17 PM ET 2003-10-15T22:04:17

Air pollution from the World Trade Center attacks may have resulted in smaller babies among pregnant mothers who were in or near the collapsing towers, preliminary research suggests. Exposed pregnant women in the study faced double the risk of delivering babies who were up to about a half-pound smaller than babies born to non-exposed women.

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The size differences among babies born to women exposed to dirt and soot from the attacks suggest a condition called intrauterine growth restriction, or IUGR, which has been linked with exposure to air pollution.

Previous research also has found that babies affected by IUGR may be at increased risk for heart disease, hypertension and other health problems in adulthood, said Dr. Philip Landrigan, chairman of Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s community and preventive medicine department, and one of the researchers.

While duration of the exposure was relatively short, “the intensity of exposure to soot and dust was extraordinarily high,” Landrigan said.

The study appears in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

It is one of several ongoing efforts to track the health effects of the World Trade Center attack. Some reports have found respiratory problems and post-traumatic disorder in people who survived the attacks.

The pregnancy research involved 182 women, including 12 who were in the towers on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists slammed hijacked jets into the buildings. Most of the others were within a half-mile of the site.

Their babies were compared with infants born at Mount Sinai’s hospital in Manhattan to women who were pregnant during the attacks but weren’t near the site.

Exposed women’s babies were not more likely to be born prematurely or to have abnormally low birth weights. But their slightly lower weights suggest they were born relatively small for their gestational age, a definition of IUGR, Landrigan said.

An increased IUGR risk was found regardless of how many months pregnant women were on Sept. 11; they ranged from being in the first through third pregnancy trimester, Landrigan said.

Stress, age and cigarette smoking were ruled out as other potential factors, Landrigan said.

Follow-up studies are planned to see if the children face heightened risks of health problems as they get older.

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