Air pollution affects fetuses in the womb, study finds


New research has revealed that fetuses can have black carbon particles in their developing organs due to air pollution, as early as the first trimester of pregnancy.

The recent study published in Lancet Planetary Health found that a newborn baby and its placenta are exposed to air pollution, specifically black carbon nanoparticles, to the same degree as its carrier.

Scientists from the University of Aberdeen in the UK and the University of Hasselt in Belgium studied 60 mother-newborn pairs, including infants under four weeks old.

They looked at black carbon, a sooty black material that is released into the air by fossil fuel combustion sources such as internal combustion engines and coal-fired power plants, to see if the air pollutant could reach the fetus.

What they found was that black carbon particles were found in cord blood, which is the blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord after a baby is born, confirming that these particles can cross the placenta and enter the fetal circulation system.

Additionally, this research is the first to find that black carbon nanoparticles can cross the placenta into the fetus in the womb as early as the first trimester of pregnancy.

The pollution was later found to enter the developing organs of the fetus, such as the liver, lungs and brain.

This is a concerning finding, the study researchers wrote, because the exposure period is critical for the development of fetal organs.

While maternal exposure to air pollution during pregnancy has been shown to lead to negative birth outcomes causing disease later in the child’s life, this study is the first to confirm that these particles actually enter the fetus.


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