Air Pollution Reaches the Placenta During Pregnancy, New Study Finds
Air pollution particles that a pregnant woman inhales have the potential to travel through the lungs and breach the fetal side of the placenta, indicating that unborn babies are exposed to black carbon from motor vehicles and fuel burning, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.
The research from scientists at Hasselt University in Belgium found soot-like black carbon on placentas donated by mothers, according to The Hill. It is the first study to show that the placental barrier, which is supposed to create a sterile environment for the fetus, can actually be penetrated by inhaled pollution particles.
Researchers have seen a link between polluted air and an increase in miscarriages, premature births and low birth weights. In fact, researchers found that after New Jersey and Pennsylvania replaced turnpike tollbooths with EZ Pass plazas, the rate of premature births and low birth weights dropped significantly within one mile of the plazas, leading to over $440 million in healthcare savings, according to a MacArthur Foundation study that NOVA reported on.
While the link between air pollution and adverse birth outcomes has been apparent, proving it was difficult since there was no way until now to show that pollutants breach the placenta. While the study, which used the placentas donated within 10 minutes of either a pre- or full-term birth, did not actually show that the babies absorb the black carbon, it is profound evidence that there is direct exposure to pollution, as NOVA reported.
"This is the smoking gun," said Janet Curie, a health economist at Princeton University who was not involved in the study, to NOVA.
The study found that the more black carbon a woman was exposed to, the more black carbon was detected on the placenta. Mothers who lived near a busy road had twice as much black carbon on the placenta than mothers who lived away from main roads, an average of 20,000 nanoparticles per cubic millimeter compared to 10,000, according to The Guardian.
Black carbon comes from a wide range of sources, including diesel engines, power plants, charcoal grills, kerosene lamps and open burning of farmland. However, stricter air quality standards in developed nations has led to precipitous drops in airborne black carbon, according to the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, which found that Asia, Africa, and Latin America — the regions with the highest birth rates — contribute 88 percent of global black carbon emissions.
Fetal damage has lifelong mental and physical health consequences. "This is the most vulnerable period of life," said Tim Nawrot, lead author of the Hasselt University study, according to The Guardian. "All the organ systems are in development. For the protection of future generations, we have to reduce exposure."
He added that while people should try to avoid busy roads, governments have the responsibility of cutting air pollution, as The Guardian reported.
While the study is small, since it examined only 25 placentas, "just finding it at the placenta is important," said Yoel Sadovsky of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, a leading placenta expert who was not involved with the new research, as the Associated Press reported. "The next question would be how much of these black carbon particles need to be there to cause damage."
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By Harry Kretchmer
By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
In another win for climate campaigners, leaders of 12 major cities around the world — collectively home to about 36 million people — committed Tuesday to divesting from fossil fuel companies and investing in a green, just recovery from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
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