Indian capital battles dangerous levels of air pollution

Indian authorities have shut factories and construction sites, restricted diesel-run vehicles and deployed water sprinklers and anti-smog guns to control haze and smog enveloping the skyline of the capital region.

The Delhi government closed primary schools and restricted outdoor activity for older students as the air quality index exceeded 470, considered “severe” and more than 10 times the global safety threshold, according to the state-run Central Pollution Control Board.

In NOIDA, short for New Okhla Industrial Development Authority, a city on the outskirts of New Delhi, many schools shifted to online classes to meet the public health crisis.

The haze enveloped monuments and high-rise buildings in and around New Delhi.

India’s environment minister Bhupender Yadav blamed the northern Punjab state, ruled by the opposition Aam Admi Party, for its failure to stop the burning of crop residues, a key contributor to the pollution, at the start of the winter wheat-sowing season.

“There is no doubt over who has turned Delhi into a gas chamber,” Mr Yadav tweeted.

The state’s top elected official, Bhagwant Mann, defended himself by saying that his government took office only six months ago and that the federal and state governments needed to tackle the pollution crisis together.

Sarvjeet Singh, a 48-year-old autorickshaw driver, said the smog was hurting his eyes and he was finding it difficult to breathe.

“There are problems, especially in the morning. It’s difficult to drive my vehicle because of the pollution. My autorickshaw is open. It will affect us more than people in cars. We have to work, what can we do?”

Rahul Azmera, 29, a software engineer who works in the United States and is visiting New Delhi with his parents, said: “I feel like if I stay here for one month, I would be hospitalised, definitely. That would scare me a lot.”

“I feel a lot of heavy breathing here because of the pollution. I could barely see up to 100 metres (328ft) or 200 metres (656ft),” he said.

A full closure of schools, colleges, educational institutions and non-emergency commercial activities, and a restriction on private vehicles, is being considered in case the pollution level does not come down this weekend, a government statement said late on Thursday.

The government advised children, the elderly and those with respiratory, cardiovascular and other health problems to avoid outdoor activities and stay indoors as much as possible.

New Delhi tops the list almost every year among the many Indian cities gasping for breath after the Diwali festival celebrations with their massive lighting of firecrackers.

The crisis is exacerbated particularly in the winter when the burning of crop residues in neighbouring states coincides with cooler temperatures that trap deadly smoke.

That smoke travels to New Delhi, leading to a surge in pollution in the city of more than 20 million people.

The government ban on construction and demolition activities includes projects such as motorways, roads, flyovers, overhead bridges, power transmission and pipelines.

The government also asked authorities in the Indian capital region covering New Delhi and parts of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh states to decide whether to allow public, municipal and private offices to work at 50% strength and ask others to work from home.

The federal government is also considering whether to permit working from home for its offices.

It said the overall air quality in New Delhi is likely to remain in the “severe” or “very severe” categories until Saturday.

An Environment Ministry review will be held on Monday.

Emissions from industries with no pollution control technology and coal, which helps produce most of the country’s electricity, have been linked to bad air quality in other urban areas.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said the country will aim to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2070 – two decades after the US and at least 10 years later than China.

Indian capital battles dangerous levels of air pollution | Redditch Advertiser
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More than one million deaths linked to air pollution exposure in Africa

Household air pollution poses severe health risks to infants and young children

Nearly all the African continent faces some of the most severe health impacts in the world caused by air pollution, with several countries experiencing some of the highest levels of air pollution in the world, according to a new report published by the U.S.-based research organization Health Effects Institute (HEI). The new report, The State of Air Quality and Health Impacts in Africa, provides a comprehensive analysis of major air pollution sources and related health impacts in the continent of more than 1.2 billion people.

Released just before the U.N.’s upcoming COP27 Climate Change Conference in Egypt, the report finds that air pollution is the second leading risk factor for death across the continent. Africa is home to five of the top ten most heavily polluted countries worldwide in terms of outdoor fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Outdoor PM2.5 is the most consistent predictor of deaths from cardiovascular, respiratory, and other diseases in studies of long-term exposure to air pollution. In 2019, air pollution contributed to an estimated 1.1 million deaths in Africa, with 63% linked to exposure to household air pollution (HAP).

Impacts of Air Pollution on Children

Access to clean energy across Africa is not equitably distributed, leading to larger disease burdens in certain areas. Across East, West, Central, and Southern Africa, an estimated 75% of the population relies on burning solid fuels such as coal, wood, and charcoal for cooking, exposing residents to high concentrations of harmful pollutants at home every day. Newborns and children under five years old in these regions are at a particularly high risk from household air pollution linked to use of solid fuels for cooking. In 2019, 14% of all deaths in children under five across Africa were linked to air pollution. The impacts on newborns and infants also have long-term consequences for overall health, including issues with lung development and increased susceptibility to communicable diseases such as lower respiratory infections in young children.

Caradee Wright, Chief Specialist Scientist with the South African Medical Research Council, said, “This report gives evidence of the substantial threat air pollution poses to the health, and even life, of babies and children under the age of 5 years. This vulnerable group needs special attention to mitigate their exposures, for example, through policy and intensive awareness campaigns with practical solutions for mothers and caregivers.”

Air Pollution Sources Across the Continent

In Africa, PM2.5 comes from many of the same sources found elsewhere in the world, including use of solid fuels for cooking, fossil fuel use (coal, oil, and gas) for energy production, vehicles, industrial and semi-industrial activities like artisanal mining, agriculture, forest fires, and open waste fire pits. In parts of Africa, windblown dust, a natural source of air pollution, is also a major contributor to PM2.5 levels.

Air pollution sources and related health impacts can vary widely across the continent. By region, Western Africa experiences the highest PM2.5 pollution with an average concentration of 64.1 μg/m3, while Southern Africa has the lowest at 26.5 μg/m3. In Southern Africa, use of fossil fuels contributes as much as 41% of the total outdoor PM2.5 levels, whereas in Eastern Africa, the contribution is only 11%.

Targeted Actions are Beginning: More Needed

While air pollution levels are high, countries across Africa are implementing a wide range of programs to lower the impacts of air pollution. So far, 17 countries in Africa have established some national air quality policies, and many have included action on air pollution sources, especially household air pollution, as part of their country’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). In 2019, Africa had one of the lowest energy access rates in the world, with fewer than one in 20 people living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Niger, Uganda, and Tanzania having access to clean fuels for cooking. At the same time, a scarcity of ground level air quality monitoring stations means countries are not able to accurately track their progress towards meeting air quality objectives and standards.

Dr. Patrick de Marie Katoto of the Catholic University of Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, said, “Air pollution greatly contributes to the rising frequency of chronic noncommunicable diseases in Africa, putting further strain on a health system already stretched by chronic infectious diseases and, more recently, COVID-19. These findings call for the African Union and member states to promote, plan, and fund air quality interventions to prevent unnecessary disabilities and deaths throughout the continent.”

Key Connections Between Air Pollution and Climate

As the world’s nations convene next month in Egypt for the COP27 climate meetings, Africa will consider how energy transitions can be designed to be efficient, economically feasible, sustainable, and environmentally friendly—a complex challenge that requires a nuanced conversation at the nexus of energy, climate, air quality, and health. Countries in the African Union have also adopted the “Agenda 2063,” a continent-wide program that lays out a strategic framework designed to deliver on its goal for inclusive and sustainable development for all residents by the year 2063. Meeting these challenges head-on will bring dual benefits of public health improvements and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions across Africa.

This report is released in coordination with a new report from the Clean Air Fund that examines how action on air pollution could free up billions of dollars, prevent thousands of deaths, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 20% by 2040.

More than one million deaths linked to air p | EurekAlert!
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Polluted air on Tube platforms could harm commuters’ health, study warns

Polluted air on Tube platforms could harm commuters’ health without action to improve ventilation, a study has warned.

Researchers found that air on the Piccadilly Line platform at South Kensington was at its worst during evening rush hour and contained particles that could potentially cause health problems.

A team of researchers from the University of Surrey’s Global Centre for Clear Air Research (GCARE) measured the air quality on the eastbound platform during operating hours (5am until midnight) and non-operating hours from September 2020 until October 2020. The particles they collected were then passed to scientists from Imperial College London for analysis using an electron microscope.

They found that the platform, which is 18 metres below ground, contained around double the amount of coarse air pollution particles (PM2.5-10) during operating hours compared with non-operating hours. The Piccadilly Line is a deep-level line that is relatively closed to outside air.

PM2.5 and PM10 are among the most damaging air particles and tend to linger in the air for longer than larger, heavier particles.

The study’s authors said that the “continued exposure” to PM could “lead to increased cellular toxicity and detrimental health effects”, including “adverse” cardiovascular and respiratory responses.

The air quality was also found to have exceeded the World Health Organisation’s air quality guidelines for fine and coarse air pollution particles – though it remained well within limits set by Health and Safety Executive.

Professor Prashant Kumar, study lead and Director of GCARE at the University of Surrey, said: “More work needs to be done to understand how the metal traces in the small airborne particles impact people’s health. In the meantime, we recommend that consideration is given to improving ventilation on the London Underground where possible.

“We accept that air pollution on platforms is a very complex problem to solve and that an effort is being made to clean the Underground during quieter periods.”

Prof Kumar said the newly opened Elizabeth Line was an example of “good practice” as it uses a screen between the train and the platform to protect passengers from pollution caused by trains.

Researchers also detected tiny amounts of ultrafine (100 nanometers or less) particles, including iron, manganese and traces of chromium and toxic organic matter. They warned that these particles could find their way to the deeper region of people’s lungs, which could potentially cause health problems.

Professor Alex Porter from Imperial College London, who worked on the study, said: “Our research provides interesting preliminary evidence about the levels of pollution within one underground station.

“This is the first time the chemistry of the smallest particles, which can go deep into the lung and potentially damage cells, has been identified. Future research will help determine the potential health effects of such exposure.”

Lilli Matson, TfL’s Chief Safety, Health & Environment Officer said: “Safety is our top priority and we have been working for many years to reduce Tube dust, and will continue to do so. Our monitoring has shown that dust levels on the Tube remain well below limits set by the Health and Safety Executive, but we are going further and have developed a number of innovative new cleaning regimes. This includes the use of industrial backpack dust cleaners, which are one part of our multi-million pound Tube cleaning programme.

“We are working with the authors to review the results of their study and to ensure we fully understand them and how to further reduce the levels further.”

TfL is currently working with Imperial College London on short and longer term studies which will investigate the impact and effect of Tube dust.

The study was published on Monday in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

Polluted air on Tube platforms could harm commuters’ health, study warns | Evening Standard
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Air pollution and stress contribute to low-birth-weight babies for Hispanic women in Los Angeles

Newborns with low birth weight face increased risks of mortality and long-term disease

Fetal growth — which is delicate and precisely programmed — may be disrupted by a mother’s exposure to air pollution and psychological stress during early to mid-pregnancy, a new USC study shows.

The findings, published today in JAMA Network Open, suggest that protecting pregnant women from air pollution may improve birth weight, especially among stressed-out mothers living in environmentally burdened neighborhoods.

“Although air pollution has a harmful effect on many different populations, our study identified the effects on expectant mothers who are already most vulnerable,” said Zhongzheng (Jason) Niu, postdoctoral scholar and research associate at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and the study’s first author. “The addition of high perceived stress is another factor contributing to this issue. We already know air pollution is linked to low birth weight and future disease risk. Protecting pregnant women from these risks would ultimately protect future generations.”

Newborns with low birth weight face increased risk of neonatal mortality and potential complications such as breathing problems, bleeding in the brain, jaundice and infections. Low birth weight is also associated with long-term disease risks including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, intellectual and developmental disabilities, metabolic syndrome and obesity.

Identifying at-risk mothers

Data from 628 predominantly low-income Hispanic women pregnant with a single baby was collected between 2015 to 2021 as part of USC’s MADRES (Maternal and Developmental Risks from Environmental and Social Stressors) Center.

Patients were recruited primarily from Eisner Health in downtown Los Angeles and the LAC + USC prenatal clinic. Biospecimen data, medical records and residential information were collected during clinic visits. Participants completed a Perceived Stress Scale questionnaire to gauge their perceptions of stress. Their neighborhood-level stressor was measured by the CalEnviroScreen Score, a California statewide screening tool to identify neighborhoods that have been disproportionately burdened by multiple sources of pollution and population vulnerability.

The average age of participants was 28 years; 73% self-identified as Hispanic and 32% listed Spanish as their preferred language. Twenty-one percent of the mothers reported high levels of stress in their lives. More than 60% of the participants lived in a neighborhood with a CalEnviroScreen Score greater than 50, indicating a high cumulative burden.

Microscopic particles threaten developing babies

Three components of polluted air were examined: PM2.5, PM10 and NO2. Levels of the pollutants were monitored from ambient air quality data (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Air Quality System) with an average of four monitoring stations within 8 kilometers to 14 kilometers of each participant’s residential address.

Emissions from the combustion of gasoline, oil, diesel fuel or wood produce particles of PM2.5, which has a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less — 30 times smaller than a strand of hair. PM10 has a diameter of less than 10 micrometers and can be found in dust and smoke.

Nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, is another pollutant released when fossil fuels are burned at high temperatures.

Daily estimates of 24-hour average NO2 and particulate matter were assigned to each participant’s residential location, from 12 weeks before conception to 36 weeks into pregnancy.

Conclusions

Exposures to particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide in early to mid-pregnancy are significantly associated with lower birth weight, researchers found. On average, birth weight was 9.5 grams lower each interquartile range increase (4 µg/m3) of PM2.5 exposure during the 14- to 22-week gestational period.

Even more concerning, mothers with high stress scores who also live in the most environmentally burdened neighborhoods experienced greater decreases in birth weight. In this group, mothers exposed to the highest levels of PM2.5 at four to 20 weeks delivered babies weighing 34 grams, or 1 ounce, less in birth weight and mothers exposed to highest PM10 at nine to 14 gestational weeks delivered babies weighing 39.4 grams less, on average.

In the same group, exposure to NO2 from nine to 14 gestational weeks was associated with a 40.4-gram decrease in birth weight. Exposure at 33 to 36 gestational weeks reported the greatest decrease in birth weight: 117.6 grams, or 4.1 ounces.

“Despite reductions in air pollution in California, we are still seeing harmful effects of air pollutants on birth weight, a key indicator of baby’s future health, in vulnerable populations,” said last author Carrie Breton, a professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine. “The most vulnerable women are those who are hit with multiple types of stressors, and experience stress in different ways. The combination of stressors and pollutants is important to consider in protecting babies’ health. Continuing to monitor air pollutants still needs to be a priority. Reducing individual and neighborhood stressors should also be a priority, particularly at the policy level.”

Air pollution and stress contribute to low-bi | EurekAlert!
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Air pollution with smaller particles has greater association with childhood asthma

Air pollution with smaller particulate matter had stronger associations with childhood asthma than pollution with larger particles, indicating that smaller particles may be more toxic, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.

Efforts to purify the air, control particulate matter pollution and develop air quality guidelines could reduce the adverse effects of this pollution, especially for children, Chuansha Wu, PhD, of the department of environmental hygiene and occupational medicine at School of Public Health, Medical College, Wuhan University of Science and Technology, and colleagues wrote.

Caregivers of 29,418 children (52.1% boys; mean age, 4.9 years; standard deviation [SD], 0.9; age range, 3 to 6 years) in seven cities in China responded to a questionnaire and indicated that 3.9% of these children had been diagnosed with asthma, and 8.6% had experienced wheeze.

Also, 62.9% were breastfed for more than 6 months, 2.7% had a parental history of atopy, 2.3% had a mother who was a current or former smoker during pregnancy and 29.7% had passive household cigarette smoke exposure in early life.

The researchers also used a mature machine learning-based method to estimate daily mean concentrations of ambient particulate matter (PM) in these cities between January 2013 and December 2018.

Mean early-life exposures for these children included:

  • 36.7 µg/m3 (SD, 8.9) for PM1, or PM with an aerodynamic equivalent of 1 µm or less;
  • 20.7 µg/m3 (SD, 4.6) for PM1-2.5, or PM between 1 µm and 2.5 µm;
  • 61.7 µg/m3 (SD, 13.1) for PM2.5, or PM of 2.5 µm;
  • 48.9 µg/m3 (SD, 16.6) PM2.5-10, or PM between 2.5 µm and 10 µm; and
  • 110.6 µg/m3 (SD, 19.3) PM10, or PM of 10 µm.

Each 10 µg/m3 increase in early-life PM1 exposure was associated with a 55% increase in risk for childhood asthma (OR = 1.55; 95% CI, 1.27-1.89). Each 10 µg/m3 increase in early-life PM2.5 exposure (OR = 1.14; 95% CI, 1.03-1.26) and in early-life PM10 exposure (OR = 1.11; 95% CI, 1.02-1.2) also increased risk for childhood asthma.

However, the researchers did not find any association between asthma and exposure to PM1-2.5 or PM2.5-10, indicating that PM1 and not PM1-2.5 contributed to the association between PM2.5 and childhood asthma.

The researchers further found associations between risk for childhood wheeze and each 10 µg/m3 increase in early-life PM1 (OR = 1.23; 95% CI, 1.07-1.41) and PM2.5 (OR = 1.08; 95% CI, 1.01-1.16) exposures, although there were no associations between wheeze and other size-segregated particles.

There were increased risks for childhood asthma with each 10 µg/m3 increase in prenatal (OR = 1.29; 95% CI, 1.12-1.5) and first-year (OR = 1.52; 95% CI, 1.25-1.84) exposure to PM1 as well. First-year exposure to PM1 also had a greater risk for childhood wheeze (OR = 1.2; 95% CI, 1.05-1.37) than prenatal exposure to PM1 (OR = 1.14; 95% CI, 1.03-1.26).

Although they concluded that there were statistically significant associations between early-life PM1 exposure and elevated risks for childhood asthma and wheeze, the researchers noted that there is limited epidemiological evidence of an association between PM1 and respiratory diseases.

Still, the researchers continued, there was an association between PM1 exposure and respiratory toxic effects, indicating an urgent need for more studies to explore the adverse effects of PM at this size on human health.

Air pollution with smaller particles has greater association with childhood asthma
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Air pollution tips the scale for obesity in women

Obesity has been a major global health issue in recent decades as more people eat unhealthy diets and fail to exercise regularly.

A new University of Michigan study suggests there is another factor that tips the scale in women’s weight, body mass index, waist circumference and body fat—air pollution.

Women in their late 40s and early 50s exposed long-term to air pollution—specifically, higher levels of fine particles, nitrogen dioxide and ozone—saw increases in their body size and composition measures, said Xin Wang, epidemiology research investigator at the U-M School of Public Health and the study’s first author.

Data came from 1,654 white, Black, Chinese, and Japanese women from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation. These women, whose baseline median age was nearly 50 years, were tracked from 2000 to 2008.

Annual air pollution exposures were assigned by linking residential addresses with hybrid estimates of air pollutant concentrations. The researchers examined the associations between the pollution and the participants’ body size and composition measures. One question they sought to answer was whether these associations differed by physical activity.

Exposure to air pollution was linked with higher body fat, higher proportion fat and lower lean mass among midlife women. For instance, body fat increased by 4.5%, or about 2.6 pounds.

Researchers explored the interaction between air pollution and physical activity on body composition. High levels of physical activity—which had been based on the frequency, duration and perceived physical exertion of more than 60 exercises—was an effective way to mitigate and offset exposure to air pollution, the research showed.

Since the study focused on midlife women, the findings can’t be generalized to men or women in other age ranges, Wang said.

Air pollution tips the scale for obesity in women
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Air pollution: Toxic particles present in lungs of unborn babies

Previous research shows that exposure to certain environmental hazards, such as secondhand smoke, lead, pesticides, and air pollution, can impact the health of an unborn baby.

University researchers have discovered air pollution particles in the lungs, liver, and brain of fetuses in the womb.

The scientists believe that the particles can cross to the unborn baby through the placenta as early as the first trimester of pregnancy.

Previous research shows that specific environmental hazardsTrusted Source can impact an unborn baby.

For example, scientists link exposure to secondhand smoke during pregnancy to a 13% increasedTrusted Source risk of birth defects and a 23% increased risk of stillbirth.

And researchers have also found that exposure to lead, pesticides, and air pollutionTrusted Source can impact the health of a baby in the uterus.

Now a research team from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, United Kingdom, and Hasselt University in Belgium has found evidence of air pollution particles in the lungs, liver, and brain of unborn babies.

The scientists believe the particles are able to cross the placenta and enter the fetus while in the womb as early as the first trimesterTrusted Source of pregnancy.

This study recently appeared in the journal Lancet Planetary Health.

What is black carbon? 

According to the study’s joint senior author Dr. Tim Nawrot, professor of environmental epidemiology at Hasselt University, the main purpose of this research was to determine whether air pollution could reach an unborn baby.

“Previously, we found that particles could get from the maternal lungs to the placenta,” he told Medical News Today. “If they can get from lungs to blood, they are so small that they probably can reach all organs, [including] that of the next generation via gestational exposure.”

For this study, researchers focused on a type of air pollution nanoparticle called black carbon. Also known as soot particles, these black particles are the result of burning coal, diesel, and other biomass fuels.

Household energy produces little over half of all black carbon, followed by transportation accounting for about 26% of all black carbon emissions.

In addition to having an adverse effect on the environmentTrusted Source, past research also shows black carbon has a negative impact on a person’s health, being linked to cardiovascular disease, asthma, and premature death.

How pollution affects babies in the womb

For the study, the research team examined maternal-perinatal and fetal samples from Belgium and the U.K. Scientists utilized a technology called femtosecond pulsed illumination to check for the presence of black carbon in the samples.

“Before our study, nobody knew for sure whether black carbon nanoparticles actually got into the fetus itself,” Prof. Paul Fowler, chair in translational medical sciences at the University of Aberdeen and the second joint senior author of this study explained for MNT.

“We established that not only did the black carbon nanoparticles enter the placenta in the first- and second-trimester human fetus, but also got into the fetal organs, specifically the liver, lung, and brain,” he told us.

Prof. Fowler said the team was surprised at how similar black carbon nanoparticle levels in the human fetus were to those in the placenta:

“We had hoped that the fetus would be, at least at some discernible level, protected. Clearly, it is not, and this is very worrying since it likely applies to many other types of micro- and nanoparticles. Since black carbon nanoparticles are also coated with metals and organic molecules, such as other products of combustion, they are ‘trojan horsing’ these toxic compounds into fetal human organs.”

And Dr. Nawrot stated these findings show the need for rigorous air pollution standards.

“Our study was conducted in a relatively low exposure area,” he explained. “We see now already a high number of particles in such low ambient concentrations — e.g. approximately 6,000 black carbon particles per [cube millimeter of] fetal lungs or brain [tissue]. In high-exposure areas, this will be considerably higher. Healthy air should be a basic right. We need to take air pollution seriously.”

Considering additional risks

When it comes to the next steps in this research, Dr. Nawrot said the team plans to examine possible links to these findings with certain health effects.

“We know that air pollution has health effects over the life course,” he said. “It might be that prenatal exposure has long-term risks for cardiovascular and respiratory disease, but might also impact childhood cognitive functionTrusted Source.”

Prof. Fowler added they also plan to map which organs and cells black carbon particles and their accompanying molecules invade.

“This needs to be accompanied by investigation to determine whether the particles and/ or the chemicals they carry directly act within fetal human organs and cells,” he explained.

“If they [do], the question is whether the effects are likely to contribute to the poorer pregnancy outcomes experienced by pregnant women in more polluted areas. Knowing the mechanisms of action may help to better [quantify] risk, the most dangerous particles/ compounds, and design amelioration strategies,” Prof. Fowler added.

‘More questions than answers’

MNT also spoke with Dr. Danelle Fisher, a pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, about this study. She said that as both a pediatrician and a mother, her first reaction to the study was fear.

“What are we doing environmentally to these unborn babies that we can detect these particles in their system before they’re even born?” she asked. “That’s just so frightening.”

“And then the next question that I have […] is […] are we going to see worse disease states?” Dr. Fisher continued. “How do we deal with it? How do we treat it? Do we need to treat it?”

“I feel like this study gave me more questions than answers,” she noted, “[b]ut a good study will do that — it will encourage you to think about what the ramifications are, what we can do to make it better, and what kinds of directions we need to go in when we’re looking at future studies.”

What can pregnant women do?

Dr. Fisher said the study also caused her to think about what pregnant women could do to protect their unborn children from air pollution.

She said suggestions might be for pregnant women to wear masks when outside and consider using an air purifier in their homes.

For research next steps, Dr. Fisher stated she would like to see if scientists can detect these black carbon particles at certain times and places within the fetus as the pregnancy comes to term.

“Normally, if the body is faced with something foreign, the body has lots of mechanisms by which to get rid of whatever the bad thing is in our system,” she explained.

“So does the body naturally do that or not? Do [the particles] accumulate more by the time the child is [to] term? I’d be very curious to see if they see more of it when the babies have gone all the way to term,” she added.

Air pollution: Toxic particles present in lungs of unborn babies
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Babies have air pollution in their lungs and brains before they take their first breath

Unborn babies have air pollution particles in their developing lungs and other vital organs as early as the first trimester, new research has revealed.

Scientists at the University of Aberdeen, UK, and Hasselt University, Belgium, studied air pollution nanoparticles, called black carbon – or soot particles – to see whether these can reach the foetus.

The ground-breaking findings published in Lancet Planetary Health show that the newborn baby and its placenta are exposed to air pollution black carbon nanoparticles proportionally to the mother’s exposure.

These nanoparticles also cross the placenta into the foetus in the womb as early as the first trimester of pregnancy and get into its developing organs, including its liver, lungs, and brain.

Black carbon is a sooty black material released into the air from internal combustion engines, coal-fired power plants, and other sources that burn fossil fuel. It is a major component of particulate matter (PM), which is an air pollutant. The mechanisms by which these very small particles (nanoparticles) cause well-known health problems are poorly understood, although in part due to the chemicals they are coated with during combustion.

Previous studies by the Hasselt University team found that black carbon nanoparticles get into the placenta, but there was no solid evidence that these particles then entered the foetus.

This latest study is the first time this has been shown to occur and the team behind the study say the findings are very worrying.

Professor Tim Nawrot said: “We know that exposure to air pollution during pregnancy and infancy has been linked with still birth, preterm birth, low weight babies and disturbed brain development, with consequences persisting throughout life.”

“We show in this study that the number of black carbon particles that get into the mother are passed on proportionally to the placenta and into the baby. This means that air quality regulation should recognise this transfer during gestation and act to protect the most susceptible stages of human development.”

To answer the question of whether these particles travel from the placenta to the foetus, Professor Nawrot linked up with Professor Paul Fowler whose team studies first and second trimester human foetuses.

Professor Fowler said: “We all worried that if nanoparticles were getting into the foetus, then they might be directly affecting its development in the womb. What we have shown for the first time is that black carbon air pollution nanoparticles not only get into the first and second trimester placenta, but then also find their way into the organs of the developing fetus, including the liver and lungs.

“What is even more worrying is that these black carbon particles also get into the developing human brain. This means that it is possible for these nanoparticles to directly interact with control systems within human fetal organs and cells.”

The study authors conclude that now it is known that the developing baby in the womb is directly exposed to black carbon air pollution particles, uncovering the mechanisms involved in health risks has become even more urgent.

Babies have air pollution in their lungs and brains before they take their first breath | News | The University of Aberdeen
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