Particles from air pollution can travel beyond a pregnant woman’s lungs and reach the placenta that guards her foetus, a new study conducted in Belgium has found, indicating that severe exposure to traffic could have a real effect on unborn babies.
This makes worrying reading for Malta. Air pollution already has a grip over the country, accounting for five deaths every week. With five new cases of chronic asthma every day, the state of Malta’s air quality is yielding widespread consequences.
In fact, a local study found that Maltese people were between two to fives times as likely to develop a respiratory illness than their Sicilian counterparts.
The issue now goes further, after Belgian researchers revealed findings which discovered thousands of tiny particles in the placenta tissue on Tuesday.
Using a novel technique, the group found particles of black carbon in each of the 28 mothers studied. The town the subjects lived in, Hasselt, has relatively low pollution levels when compared to Malta.
There was an average of 20,000 nanoparticles per cubic millimetre in the placentas of mothers who lived near main roads. For those further away, the average was 10,000 per cubic millimetre.
The link between air pollution and miscarriages, premature births, and low birth weight has been well researched in the past. However, this is the first to show that the toxic particle can breach an unborn baby’s protective barrier.
“This is the most vulnerable period of life. All the organ systems are in development. For the protection of future generations, we have to reduce exposure,” Prof Tim Nawrot at Hasselt University in Belgium, who led the study, said.
They added that while the responsibility to cut air pollution should fall on governments’ shoulders, people should still do their best to avoid heavy traffic.