Pollution from the air has been found in the lungs and brains of unborn babies.


Pollution from the air has been found in the lungs and brains of unborn babies. Air pollution particles have been found in the lungs, livers, and brains of unborn babies, long before they have taken their first breath. Researchers said their “groundbreaking” discovery was “very worrying,” because fetuses are most vulnerable during their gestation period.

Each cubic millimeter of tissue had thousands of black carbon particles. These particles were breathed in by the mother while she was pregnant and then passed to the fetus through the bloodstream and placenta.

It was already known that dirty air was strongly linked to more miscarriages, early births, low birth weights, and problems with brain development. But the new study shows exactly how that damage could happen. Scientists said that the pollution could hurt people’s health for the rest of their lives.

Soot from burning fossil fuels in cars, homes, and factories makes up the particles. They cause inflammation in the body and carry toxic chemicals. The study was done with mothers who did not smoke in Scotland and Belgium, which have relatively clean air.

Prof. Paul Fowler at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland said, “We have shown for the first time that black carbon nanoparticles not only get into the placenta in the first and second trimesters but also get into the organs of the developing fetus.”

“What’s even scarier is that these particles get into the brains of people who are still growing,” he said. “This means that these nanoparticles could interact directly with control systems in the organs and cells of a human fetus.”

Prof. Tim Nawrot from Hasselt University in Belgium, who helped lead the study, said, “Air quality regulations should recognize this [air pollution] transfer during gestation and act to protect the most vulnerable stages of human development.”

He said that it is up to the government to clean up the air, but that people should try to stay off of busy roads as much as possible.

In 2018, Prof. Jonathan Grigg and his team at Queen Mary University of London were the first to find particles of air pollution in placentas. He said, “The new study is very good. They have shown convincingly that the particles then get into the fetuses.”

“Seeing particles in the brains of fetuses raises the stakes because this could affect the child for the rest of his or her life,” said Grigg. “It’s scary, but we don’t know what happens when the particles settle in different places and slowly release their chemicals,” which means that more research is needed.

In 2019, the results of a global study showed that air pollution may hurt almost every organ and cell in the human body. Small particles can also get into the brain, and billions of them have been found in the hearts of young people who live in cities.

More than 90% of the world’s people live in places where pollution levels are higher than what the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends. This causes millions of people to die early every year.

The new study, which was published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health, looked at samples of lung, liver, and brain tissue, as well as umbilical cord blood and placentas. When the mother lived in a place with more air pollution than other people in the study, there were more particles in the air.

In the part of the study that took place in Scotland, 36 fetuses were looked at. These fetuses came from normal-developing pregnancies that ended between 7 and 20 weeks of gestation. The scientists said, “The results are especially worrying because this time of exposure is important for organ development.” After 60 healthy births in Belgium, samples of cord blood were taken.