Black carbon particles typically emitted by vehicle exhaust and coal-fired power plants have been detected on the fetus-facing side of placentas, researchers said Tuesday, September 17, AFP reports.
The concentration of particles was highest in the placentas of women most exposed to airborn pollutants in their daily life, according to a study in Nature Communications.
"Our study provides compelling evidence for the presence of black carbon particles originating from air pollution in human placenta," the authors said.
The findings, they added, offer a "plausible explanation for the detrimental health effects of pollution from early life onwards."
Air pollution is known to have potentially devastating impacts on children's health.
The biggest risk is for low birth weight, which in turn increases the odds for diabetes, asthma, stroke, heart disease and a host of other conditions.
But the biological explanation for how and why air pollution poses such a threat to newborns has long puzzled doctors.
"The new study sheds some light on this by showing that inhalation of black carbon particles can accumulate in the placenta," commented Christine Jasoni, director of the Brain Health Research Centre at the University of Otago in New Zealand, commenting on the study.