Science News shares a small but disturbing Belgian study that found solid particles of air pollutants around developing babies in the womb:
Samples of placenta collected after women in Belgium gave birth revealed soot, or black carbon, embedded within the tissue on the side that faces the baby, researchers report online September 17 in Nature Communications. The amount of black carbon in the placenta correlated with a woman’s air pollution exposure, estimated based on emissions of black carbon near her home.
“There’s no doubt that air pollution harms a developing baby,” says Amy Kalkbrenner, an environmental epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee who was not involved in the new work. Mothers who encounter air pollution regularly may have babies born prematurely or with low birth weight.
These developmental problems have been tied to an inflammatory response to air pollution in a mother’s body, including inflammation within the uterus. But the new study, Kalkbrenner says, suggests that “air pollution itself is getting into the developing baby.”
Researchers in Belgium at Hasselt University in Diepenbeek and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven used femtosecond pulsed laser illumination to test the tissue for soot. The technique involves using extremely fast laser bursts — each one-quadrillionth of a second — to excite electrons within the tissue, which then emits light. Different tissues are known to generate certain colors, such as red for collagen and green for placental cells. The black carbon was distinct and released white light.
An average of 9,500 particles per cubic millimeter of placental tissue was found in the women exposed to less pollution and 20,900 particles per cubic millimeter in the more exposed group.
The study is here.