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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Home gardening is having a boom year across the U.S. Whether they're growing their own food in response to pandemic shortages or just looking for a diversion, numerous aspiring gardeners have constructed their first raised beds, and seeds are flying off suppliers' shelves. Now that gardens are largely planted, much of the work for the next several months revolves around keeping them healthy.
Start With Prevention<p>Just as preventive steps like maintaining a balanced diet help keep humans healthy, home growers can take many actions to help their gardens thrive.</p><p>One key step is assessing soil fertility – the ability of soil to sustain plant growth – which can vary widely depending on your location and soil type. Low soil fertility limits food production and predisposes plants to disease and pests. University extension <a href="https://soiltesting.wvu.edu/" target="_blank">soil testing labs</a> can help evaluate the quality of garden soil and identify nutrient deficiencies and acidic soils, often at no charge.</p>
Using weed barrier landscape cloth for planting rows and mulching between rows is an effective way to suppress weeds. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND
Diagnosing Problems<p>Common plant pathogens include <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/viral/introduction/Pages/PlantViruses.aspx" target="_blank">viruses</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/prokaryote/intro/Pages/Bacteria.aspx" target="_blank">bacteria</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/nematode/intro/Pages/IntroNematodes.aspx" target="_blank">nematodes</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/oomycete/introduction/Pages/IntroOomycetes.aspx#:%7E:text=The%20oomycetes%2C%20also%20known%20as,foliar%20blights%20and%20downy%20mildews." target="_blank">oomycetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/fungalasco/intro/Pages/IntroFungi.aspx" target="_blank">fungi</a>. All of these microorganisms, especially at an early stage of infection, are too small to see. But when they proliferate, they cause changes in plants that we can recognize.</p><p>Unlike insects, which move around on six legs or on wings through the air, pathogens can move unseen and unchecked from leaf to leaf on the wind, through the soil or in droplets of water. Some microbes have even formed intimate relationships with insects and use them as vehicles to move from plant to plant, which makes these pathogens even more challenging to manage. Unfortunately, by the time some pathogens make their presence known, the damage is already done.</p><p>We recently conducted a <a href="https://twitter.com/kasson_wvu/status/1265989041725624323" target="_blank">Twitter poll</a> of gardeners nationwide to find out which culprits plagued their gardens. People named <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/aphids" target="_blank">aphids</a>, <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/squash-vine-borer" target="_blank">squash vine borers</a>, <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/squash-bug" target="_blank">squash bugs</a> and <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/flea-beetle" target="_blank">flea beetles</a> as the most problematic insect pests. Their most troublesome pathogens included <a href="https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/plant-disease/fruit-vegetable-diseases/powdery-mildew" target="_blank">powdery mildew</a>, <a href="https://plantpath.ifas.ufl.edu/rsol/Trainingmodules/BWTomato_Module.html" target="_blank">tomato bacterial wilt</a> and <a href="https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/plant-disease/fruit-vegetable-diseases/downy-mildew" target="_blank">cucurbit downy mildew</a>.</p><p>To manage such perennial challenges, the first step is to spend time closely looking at your plants. Do you notice any insects consistently hanging around, or molds colonizing leaves or other plant parts? How about symptoms such as blight, stunting, or leaves that are yellowing, browning or wilting?</p>
This white fungal growth is an early sign of powdery mildew on a leaf of susceptible summer squash. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND
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