Maternal exposure to air pollution nanoparticles and adverse birth outcomes

January 19, 2023
12:00 pm US Eastern Time

Air pollution is a complex mixture, including particulate matter (PM) and volatile compounds. Many are products of incomplete combustion, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and black carbon nanoparticles. Globally, these nanoparticles are associated with increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, including pregnancy loss and low birth weight. However, it has been assumed that the principal impacts are on the mother and the placenta, rather than the fetus. 

Professor Paul Fowler presented a new study that establishes two key novel facts about black carbon air pollution nanoparticles. The study, Maternal exposure to ambient black carbon particles and their presence in maternal and fetal circulation and organs: an analysis of two independent population-based observational studies, is a collaboration with Prof Tim Nawrot at Hasselt University. First, the study finds that levels of nanoparticles in the environment are proportional to those in the mother, in the placenta and in the neonate. Second, the study finds that these particles pass through the placenta and reach first and second trimester human fetal liver, lung, and brain.

These findings further increase the  urgency of mitigating air pollution risks, especially since exposure in utero is also linked with cognitive issues. Potential mechanisms and the way forward for future research and medical and public policy implications were discussed.

The call was moderated by Génon Jensen  of the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL).

Featured Speaker

Prof. Paul Fowler, PhD, FRSB is a zoologist who has studied the endocrine regulation of reproduction and development for much of his career. In 2000, he moved to the University of Aberdeen’s Institute of Medical Sciences and subsequently focused primarily on elucidating mechanisms regulating and dysregulating human reproduction and development. His main research model is the normal first and second trimester human fetus (currently leading the Scottish Advanced Fetal Research (SAFeR) study). This work aims to unravel effects of environmental/lifestyle exposures, such as maternal smoking (in part as a model for air pollution), obesity, medication use and chemicals, including endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) on human fetal development. Since 2009 he has led or participated in several major EU research programs studying endocrine disruption, including Reproductive Effects of Environmental Chemicals in Females (REEF), Protection Against Endocrine Disrupters (PROTECTED), Safeguarding Female Reproductive Health Against Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (FREIA), Inflammation in Human Early Life: Targeting Impacts on Life Course Health (INITIALISE), and Partnership of the Assessment of Risks from Chemicals, 2022-2029 (PARC). 

This webinar is sponsored by the EDC Strategies Partnership, which is co-chaired by Sharyle Patton (Commonweal Biomonitoring Resource Center), Jerry Heindel and Sarah Howard (Environmental Health Sciences' Healthy Environment and Endocrine Disruptor Strategies HEEDS), Génon Jensen (Health and Environment Alliance, HEAL), and Kristin Schafer (Commonweal CHE, Collaborative on Health and the Environment). To see a full list of past calls and webinars related to EDCs and listen to or view recordings, please visit our partnership page.