The recent study published in Lancet Planetary Health discovered that a newborn baby and its placenta are exposed to air pollution, specifically black carbon nanoparticles, to the same degree as its carrier.
Scientists at the University of Aberdeen in the U.K., and Hasselt University in Belgium studied 60 mother-neonate pairs, which included infants under four weeks old.
They examined black carbon, a sooty black material which is released into the air from fossil-fuel burning 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 in cord blood, which is the blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord after the birth of a baby, confirming that these particles can cross the placenta and enter into the fetal circulation system.
Furthermore, this research is the first to discover that the black carbon nanoparticles can cross the placenta into the fetus in the womb as early as the first trimester of pregnancy.
The pollution was then found to get into the fetus’ developing organs, such as liver, lungs, and brain.
It’s a concerning finding, wrote the study researchers, as the time period of exposure is key for fetus organ development.
While maternal exposure to air pollution during pregnancy has 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 make their way into the fetus.