It is possible for air pollution to cause damage even before babies are born. The research from UHasselt published in the journal of The Lancet Planetary Health has revealed the following information.
Researchers have found particles of soot in the vital organs of newborn and aborted babies. For the study, researchers examined 60 women from Limburg who had just given birth. It has been revealed that the soot particles are entering the blood of the fetus through the mother’s blood. “The mother inhales the soot particles and through her lungs, they then enter her blood,” said Environmental Epidemiologist Tim Nawrot (UHasselt). “Via the placenta, they subsequently enter the child’s blood.”
To research the effects on unborn babies, UHasselt collaborated with the University of Aberdeen and asked Scottish women undergoing abortions for non-medical reasons to take part in the SAFeR project. Subsequently, the vital organs of fetuses were also examined. “In every foetus we examined, we found such particles,” says Nawrot.
The study was conducted in Belgium on the Limburg birth cohort of the Hospital Oost-Limburg and in Scotland on a biobank of tissue from aborted fetuses. Mothers who smoke were excluded from the study because the harmful effects of smoking are already known.
Meanwhile, Nawrot has explained that, “The soot is the very finest fine dust that enters the bloodstream through the lungs. Everything related to combustion causes these particles: traffic, shipping, industry, heating and so on. We detected more soot in the umbilical cord blood of mothers who live near a busy road, for example.”
Belgium ranked 82 for air quality – with 1 being the worst quality – on a global ranking last year. Even in Scotland, which is among Europe’s regions with the best air quality, babies bear the marks of pollution. “There have already been studies showing that children growing up in high-pollution areas perform worse cognitively and are also more likely to develop asthma,” said Nawrot. “It is possible that the effects of air pollution start as early as the womb. So even before a child breathes, it is exposed to it.”


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