Air Pollution, Birth Defects, and the Risk in China (and Beyond)

A woman and child walk in the Forbidden City during heavy pollution in Beijing Photograph by Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images

After one particularly prolonged spell of smoggy Beijing air in late January, the Atlantic Monthly’s James Fallows posted a provocative piece online titled, “China’s Pollution: The Birth Defect Angle.” In it, he quoted troubling anecdotal e-mails from readers suggesting that China’s degraded environment was taking a heavy toll on the living and the unborn alike. Yet the short piece ended with a question, not a scientific conclusion: Do we know if prolonged exposure to polluted air, water, or food causes birth defects?

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