Carbon particles in polluted air can travel through a mother’s placenta to the foetal side, which may lead to future health complications as the baby develops, according to a study.
A team of researchers including those from Hasselt University in Belgium identified the presence of black carbon particles that are part of combustion-derived particulate matter in all the placenta samples they screened from 28 new mothers.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, suggests that the placenta — a temporary organ that presents a natural barrier between mother and foetus during the entire pregnancy — may not be as impermeable to environmental pollutants as thought before.
The researchers found used a new scanning technique to find carbon particles accumulated on the foetus-side of the placenta, close to where the umbilical cord begins.
The carbon particle load found in the placentae was positively associated with the residential exposure of the mothers to the pollutants during gestation, the study noted.
The results, according to the researchers, indicate that particulate matter in the environment can cross the placental barrier towards the foetus, even during early and vulnerable stages of pregnancy.
The researchers caution that the direct effects induced by combustion-related pollutants in the environment “are at least partially responsible for observed detrimental health effects from early life onwards.”
“If you think that these are problems of Asian mega-cities, read on — data presented in this paper were collected in Belgium!” tweeted Gregor Kos, an atmospheric analytical chemist at Concordia University in Canada, who was not involved in the study.
A study conducted last year by researchers at Queen Mary University of London in the UK found evidence of tiny particles of carbon, typically created by burning fossil fuels, in placentas.