Scientist have reason to believe pollution particles can travel through the lungs and into pregnant women’s placentas, potentially reaching their fetuses, CNN reports.
The placenta is an organ that attaches itself to the womb during pregnancy and attaches the mother to the fetus. The organ is crucial to the fetus’ health. It lets oxygen and nutrients pass through a mother’s bloodstream to the fetus through the umbilical cord, and filters out any waste.
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How exactly air pollution enters a pregnant woman’s womb wasn't very well understood, until now.
First evidence that soot from polluted air is reaching placenta: https://t.co/6eU61o1tgQ#ERSCongresspic.twitter.com/T4lv1l0irx— ERS (@ERSTalk) September 16, 2018
The European Respiratory Society International Congress in Pariscame across sooty particles in the placentas of five non-smoking pregnant women living in London who planned to deliver healthy babies and volunteered to have researchers look at their placentas after their planned cesarean sections.
They believe the sooty particles found in the placental macrophages, which are part of the body’s immune system and fight off harmful particles from bacteria and pollution, were carbon particles.
Read More: Air pollution is killing 6.5 million people each year
Turns out the city full of vehicle traffic pollution was onto something, when it announced the implementation of carbon-sucking technologies in January. Carbon in the atmosphere hit an 800,000 year high in 2016.
Figuring out that air pollution travels through a mother’s blood system after it’s inhaled is a huge breakthrough.
Although a small study, the report makes a clearer connection between a mother’s exposure to air pollution, infant mortality, premature birth, and low birth rate. The risk is much higher for mothers living in cities where they come into contact with more vehicle pollution.
Researchers aren’t sure if the particles they found can move into the fetus, but Dr. Norrice Liu, who worked on the study, said in a statement that it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
There’s no doubt that once air pollution comes into contact with a fetus it can affect development, childbirth, and a child’s life outside the womb through the rest of their life, according to Dr. Lisa Miyashita of Queen Mary University of London, who contributed to the report.
Read More: How Toxic Is Your City's Air? Now You Can Find Out
This study only adds to the endless list of negative health side effects of air pollution. A study published in August found that, in addition to killing 6.5 million people per year, it destroys intelligence.
All signs point to the need to limit air pollution, especially if it affects children’s quality of life before they’re even born. A UNICEF report published in 2017 also found almost 17 million babies under the age of one live in areas where pollution is at last six times higher than international limits.
"It is clear that current regulatory air pollution levels are not sufficiently protecting pregnant women and their unborn babies and this needs to be urgently addressed by policy makers to improve public health," Dr. Mireille Toledano, chair in Perinatal and Paediatric Environmental Epidemiology at Imperial College London, told CNN.