Pollution can reach babies in the womb and damage developing organs, scientists say UK News


According to a study, air pollution particles can get into the organs of fetuses as they develop in the womb and potentially harm development.

Academics from the University of Aberdeen and Hasselt University in Belgium found evidence of black carbon particles – also known as soot particles – in umbilical cord blood.

This in turn shows that they can cross the placenta.

Air pollution has been linked to “premature births, low-weight babies and impaired brain development,” scientists said.

Development of key organs takes place as the baby develops in the womb – and the particles can be seen throughout the first trimester of pregnancy, researchers warned.

During their study, they looked at 60 mothers and their babies in Aberdeen and the Grampian region of Scotland.

They also analyzed tissue samples from 36 fetuses aborted between seven and 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Soot particles were present in all mothers and newborns – and in the livers, lungs and brains of the aborted fetuses.

All tissue samples analyzed contained black carbon particles.

Soot is one of many particles and gases released from the combustion of diesel, coal and other biomass fuels.

The number of particles found depended on the air pollution the mother was exposed to during pregnancy.

It is said to be the first time black carbon nanoparticles have been found in developing fetuses.

Read more: Government Proposed Legislative Targets on Air Pollution and Wildlife

The study authors wrote in the journal Lancet Planetary Health: “We found that maternally inhaled carbonaceous air pollution particles can cross the placenta and then enter human fetal organs during pregnancy.

“These results are particularly worrying because this window of exposure is key to organ development.”

Professor Tim Nawrot from the University of Hasselt said: “We know that exposure to air pollution during pregnancy and infancy has been linked to stillbirth, premature birth, low-weight babies and impaired brain development, with lifelong consequences.

“This means that air quality regulation should recognize this transmission during pregnancy and intervene to protect the most vulnerable stages of human development.”

Professor Paul Fowler of the University of Aberdeen added: “We were all concerned that nanoparticles, if they get into the fetus, could directly affect its development in the womb.

“What we have shown for the first time is that black carbon air pollution nanoparticles not only enter the first and second trimester placenta, but then also enter the organs of the developing fetus, including the liver and lungs.”

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