In a first, a study has shown that placental barrier can be penetrated by particles breathed in by the mother.
The study found air pollution particles on the foetal side of placentas, indicating that unborn babies are directly exposed to the black carbon produced by motor traffic and fuel burning.
Tim Nawrot, professor, Hasselt University in Belgium, who led the study, was quoted as saying, “This is the most vulnerable period of life. All the organ systems are in development. For the protection of future generations, we have to reduce exposure.”
The research examined 25 placentas from non-smoking women. And they found nanoparticles on the foetal side of the placenta — an average of 20,000 nanoparticles per cubic millimetre for those living near main roads — which correlated with the air pollution levels experienced by the mothers.
The researchers also found black carbon particles in the urine of primary school children, an average of about 10 million particles per millimetre in nine to 12-year-olds.
Air pollution has been dubbed a leading killer of children worldwide by World Health Organisation (WHO). Foetuses are exposed to air pollution through placenta, which can lead to oxidative stress, DNA damage and lesser absorption of nutrients. It not only impacts foetal development but also the early years since babies breathe faster than adults, taking in more air.