May 13, 2010
Pollution is all around us, everywhere we go, every day we experience some sort of pollution. Babies in the womb are more vulnerable than their mothers to DNA harm from air pollution, in spite of the additional protection that the placenta is thought to supply in removing toxins. In a study of babies and their mothers in New York City, scientists found that babies had accumulated a relatively high amount of mutations, and they connected the mutations to vehicle emissions. The babies also had more toxins from secondhand smoke than their mothers, who didn’t even smoke. This information is listed in Environmental Health Perspectives.
For many years, scientists have believed that a fetus may be more susceptible to toxins than an adult. Yet, new research among a handful of large studies has analyzed the genetic effects of pollution. It is not known what the health effects of this DNA damage, if any, are for newborns. Exposure to these types of pollutants and tobacco smoke has been linked to increased risk for cancer in adults. “This finding raises concern about fetal susceptibility and underscores the importance of reducing air pollution,” says Frederica Perera, who led the study at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health in New York City. The study included 265 pairs of nonsmoking African-American and Latina mothers and newborns in New York City. The researchers collected cord blood samples from the babies at the time of delivery and blood samples from the mothers a day after giving birth. Mothers and newborns had the same level of DNA damage from air pollutants, but the researchers estimate that the fetus is exposed to a ten-fold lower dose of pollutants than the mother because the placenta serves as a filter. Thus, fetuses appear to be particularly susceptible to environmental toxins and may not be able to clear them from their bodies or repair damaged DNA. The finding that newborns had higher...