Toxic air pollution particles have been found in the lungs, livers and brains of unborn babies, long before they take their first breath. The researchers said their “groundbreaking” discovery was “very worrying” because the gestation period of fetuses is the most vulnerable stage of human development.
Thousands of toxic air pollution particles called black carbon were found in every cubic millimeter of tissue, which were inhaled by the mother during pregnancy and then passed through the bloodstream and placenta to the fetus.
Dirty air was already known to be strongly correlated with increased miscarriages, premature births, low birth weight and impaired brain development. But the new study provides direct evidence of how this harm can be caused. Scientists said pollution could cause lifelong health effects, he writes The Guardian.
Toxic air pollution particles found in unborn babies
The particles are made of soot from burning fossil fuels in vehicles, homes and factories and cause inflammation in the body and carry toxic chemicals. The study was conducted with non-smoking mothers in Scotland and Belgium, in places with relatively low air pollution.
“We have shown for the first time that carbon black nanoparticles not only enter the first and second trimester placenta, but then find their way into the organs of the developing fetus,” said Professor Paul Fowler, from the University of Aberdeen. from Scotland.
“What’s even more worrying is that these particles also end up in the developing human brain. This means that it is possible for these nanoparticles to directly interact with control systems in human fetal organs and cells,” he said.
Governments are primarily responsible
“Air quality regulation should recognize this transfer (of air pollution) during gestation and act to protect the most susceptible stages of human development,” said Prof. Tim Nawrot, from Hasselt University in Belgium.
He said governments were responsible for reducing air pollution, but that people should avoid busy roads when possible.
Toxic air pollution particles were first detected in placentas in 2018 by Professor Jonathan Grigg, of Queen Mary University of London, UK, and colleagues. “The new study is very good, it has shown convincingly that the particles then end up in the fetuses,” he said.
These toxic air pollution particles can cause lifelong problems
“The fact that we see particles entering the brains of fetuses is critical because this can have lifelong consequences for the child,” Grigg said. “It’s worrying, but we still don’t know what happens when the particles fall into different places and slowly remove the chemicals,” meaning more research is needed.
A comprehensive global review in 2019 concluded that air pollution can affect every organ and virtually every cell in the human body. Tiny particles have also been found to cross the blood-brain barrier, and billions have been found in the hearts of young urban dwellers.
More than 90% of the world’s population lives in places where air pollution is above World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, causing millions of premature deaths each year.
The new research, published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health, found air pollution particles in every sample of lung, liver and brain tissue examined, as well as in cord blood and placentas. The concentration of particles was higher when the mother lived in higher levels of air pollution compared to the others in the study.
The 36 fetuses examined in the Scottish part of the study were from voluntary termination of normal pregnancies between 7 and 20 weeks’ gestation. “The findings are particularly concerning because this window of exposure is key to organ development,” the scientists said. In Belgium, umbilical cord blood samples were collected after 60 healthy births.