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(CNN) - Researchers have found new evidence that air pollution can cross a mother's placenta and potentially reach the fetus in the womb, which increases the possibility of future health problems.
The researchers found that when pregnant women breathe black carbon pollution, created by the combustion of fossil fuels, such as diesel cars or coal burning, harmful particles can pass from the lungs to the placenta and can reach fetuses directly.
Dirty air has previously been linked to increased miscarriages, premature births and low birth weight among babies, as a result of the effects of contamination on the mother.
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However, it was previously thought that the placenta - an organ that adheres to the uterus during pregnancy, allowing oxygen and nutrients to pass from the mother's blood supply to the fetus through the umbilical cord - was an "impenetrable barrier" .
A study last year was the first to suggest that this was not the case, after contaminants were found in the placentas of five pregnant women in the United Kingdom.
New research by scientists from Hasselt University and published in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday examined 25 non-smoking women who were giving birth in the Belgian city of Hasselt. Immediately after birth, the researchers collected women's placentas to study the side facing the fetus, and found that black carbon had accumulated.
When women were exposed to more black carbon during pregnancy, more black carbon was found in the placenta.
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Black carbon particles come from a variety of sources, as well as from cars and power plants: biomass and coal stoves in homes, kerosene lamps and burning agricultural land for agriculture.
The study warns that more research is needed to show if once inside the placenta, particles can travel directly to the fetus, but the results show that placentas actually allow particles such as black carbon to pass, providing "convincing evidence" to This theory
This is the last step in research on the link between pollution and birth: a 2017 report also found that exhaust gases and traffic soot in London could be causing low birth weight in babies. The 2018 study, also conducted in London, found similar results to the Hasselt study, but the composition of the particles had not been identified, and the researchers could only speculate that the contamination particles were carbon.