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Prenatal exposure to wildfire-related air pollution and birth defects in Brazil



Birth defects are a major cause of poor health outcomes during both childhood and adulthood. A growing body of evidence demonstrated associations between air pollution exposure during pregnancy and birth defects. To date, there is no study looking at birth defects and exposure to wildfire-related air pollution, which is suggested as a type of air pollution source with high toxicity for reproductive health.


Our study addresses this gap by examining the association between birth defects and wildfire smoke exposure in Brazil between 2001 and 2018. Based on known differences of impacts of wildfires across different regions of Brazil, we hypothesized differences in risks of birth defects for different regions.


We used a logistic regression model to estimate the odds ratios (ORs) for individual birth defects (12 categories) associated with wildfire exposure during each trimester of pregnancy.


Among the 16,825,497 birth records in our study population, there were a total of 7595 infants born in Brazil between 2001 and 2018 with birth defects in any of the selected categories. After adjusting for several confounders in the primary analysis, we found statistically significant OR for three birth defects, including cleft lip/cleft palate [OR: 1.007 (95% CI: 1.001; 1.013)] during the second trimester of exposure, congenital anomalies of the respiratory system [OR: 1.013 (95% CI: 1.002; 1.023)] in the second trimester of exposure, and congenital anomalies of the nervous system [OR: 1.002 (95% CI: 1.001; 1.003)] during the first trimester of exposure for the regions South, North, and Midwest, respectively.


Our results suggest that maternal exposure to wildfire smoke during pregnancy may increase the risk of an infant being born with some congenital anomaly. Considering that birth defects are associated with long-term disability, impacting families and the healthcare system (e.g., healthcare costs), our findings should be of great concern to the public health community.

Impact statement

Our study focused on the association between maternal exposure to wildfire smoke in Brazil during pregnancy and the risk of an infant being born with congenital anomalies, which presents serious public health and environmental challenges.

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Fig. 1: Spatial distribution of birth defects and wildfire.

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This work was supported by the Brazilian Agencies National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI).

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Authors and Affiliations



WJR conceived and the work, acquired data, played an important role in interpreting the results, and drafted the first version of the paper. EK worked on the exposure data analysis. SP, PK, and JS played an important role in interpreting the results and suggesting edits in the methodological design.

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Correspondence to Weeberb J. Requia.

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Requia, W.J., Kill, E., Papatheodorou, S. et al. Prenatal exposure to wildfire-related air pollution and birth defects in Brazil. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 32, 596–603 (2022).

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