Air pollution particles have been found in the placentas of fifteen women, according to a new study published by researchers at Queen Mary University of London.
The researchers analysed the placentas of 15 healthy women following the birth of their children.
All of the women were from London and the researchers estimated that all of them had been exposed to above to air pollution above the World Health Organisation (WHO) limit for particulate matter (PM2.5).
The cells in the placentas were then analysed using a range of techniques including light and electron microscopy.
Black particles that closely resembled PM2.5 were found in the placental cells of all fifteen women.
The researchers demonstrated that inhaled PM2.5 pollution can move from lungs to distant organs and that it is then taken up by certain cells in the human placenta and potentially the foetus.
The majority of particles found in the cells were carbon-based, but the researchers also found trace amounts of metals.
Analysis of these particles strongly suggests that they originated from traffic-related sources and the metals found were associated with fossil fuel combustion and vehicle brake-wear.
Lead author of the study Professor Jonathan Grigg, said: ‘Our study for the first time shows that inhaled carbon particulate matter in air pollution, travels in the bloodstream, and is taken up by important cells in the placenta.
‘We hope that this information will encourage policymakers to reduce road traffic emissions in this post lockdown period.’
Fiona Miller Smith, chief executive of Barts Charity added: ‘This is an incredibly important study and immensely relevant to mums-to-be in our local community, indeed in any urban community anywhere in the world.
‘In the current climate it can be hard to see beyond COVID and so we are particularly proud to have funded this vital work and truly hope that it will lead to greater awareness of the risks of pollution to the unborn child.’
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