Even small amounts of air pollution appear to raise the risk of a condition in pregnant women linked to premature births and lifelong neurological and respiratory disorders in their children, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests.
Fine particles from car exhaust, power plants and other industrial sources are breathed into the lungs, but the scientists have now found evidence of the effects of that pollution in pregnant women’s placentas, the organ that connects a mother to her fetus and provides blood, oxygen, and nutrition. They found that the greater the maternal exposure to air pollution, the more likely the pregnant women suffered from a condition called intrauterine inflammation, which can increase the risk of a number of health problems for her child from the fetal stage well into childhood.
The researchers, reporting online April 27 in Environmental Health Perspectives, say the findings add to the growing evidence that the air a pregnant woman breathes could have long-term health consequences for her child and that current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air pollution standards may not be stringent enough to protect her developing fetus.
“Twenty years ago, we showed that high levels of air pollution led to poor pregnancy outcomes, including premature births. Now we are showing that even small amounts of air pollution appear to have biological effects at the cellular level in pregnant women,” says the study’s senior author, Dr. Xiaobin Wang, Zanvyl Krieger Professor and director of the Center on the Early Life Origins of Disease at the Bloomberg School.