‘Black carbon’ particles can reach the placenta — study

Source: By Sean Reilly, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Once inhaled by a pregnant woman, the sooty particulates known as “black carbon” can migrate from her lungs to the placenta surrounding the fetus, Belgian researchers find in a new study.

The study, published online today in Nature, stops short of concluding that those particles then make their way to the fetus.

Still, the research suggests that “ambient particulates could be transported toward the fetus and represents a potential mechanism explaining the detrimental health effects of pollution from early life onwards,” the authors write.

Ultrafine black carbon particulates are spawned by coal-fired power plants, diesel engines and other sources that burn fossil fuels; inhalation is linked to cancer, respiratory problems and birth defects, according to an EPA website.

They make up a “significant portion” of overall concentration of particulate matter, which is one of a half-dozen pollutants for which the agency sets ambient air quality standards, the website says.

Research around the world has shown that long-term exposure to even low particulate concentrations can impede cognitive development, the new study says.

The findings were based on biopsies of placental tissue taken immediately after birth. Black carbon particles were found in all of the placentas.

There was also a “positive association” between the amount of black carbon in each placenta and the mother’s exposure to the pollutant over her entire pregnancy, according to the paper.

Although more research is needed, “our results suggest that particle transport through placental tissue is indeed possible,” the authors write.