UK scientists launch study on the impact of pollutants on children

March 11, 2022

According to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), scientists at Swansea University have launched a major study to discover how everyday pollutants impact the development and health of fetuses and children.

Pollutants from wood burning stoves, clothing, cleaning products and cooking can build up indoors, especially over winter, alongside outdoor pollution such as traffic fumes.

In the UK, people spend on average 90% of their time indoors, so research in this area is key to understanding the connection between pollution and human health.

Previous studies have shown air pollution can impact the size of babies and premature birth. Scientists are now working on the ‘Relating Environment-use Scenarios in Pregnancy or Infanthood and Resulting airborne material Exposures to child health outcomes’ (RESPIRE) study.

The RESPIRE study is the first to track how the function of different organs such as the lungs and brain is impacted by pollution at home, work, and the other indoor places we visit.

Professor Cathy Thornton, Professor of Human Immunology at Swansea University, said, “Our UK wide collaboration will be the first to explore how pregnant women might respond differently to air pollution as a way of understanding the health consequences for their children. Alongside this we will work with pregnant women and their families, the wider public, local and national government as well as businesses to monitor indoor and outdoor air pollution exposures of pregnant women and relate these to later health outcomes of the child.”

This ambitious approach is intended to inform policy and the development of interventions including the development of simple tools to quickly monitor the success on an intervention.”

The study is designed to determine how air pollution exposures of pregnant women pass to the baby and affect organ development, leading to poor health in childhood. To conduct the study, biological samples will be obtained from pregnant volunteers at various trimesters. Scientists will then analyze the effects of airborne materials on the samples.

These will include nasal samples as a source from the airways that is safe to use in pregnancy, peripheral and umbilical cord blood, placenta, and sperm.

Samples will be exposed to PM2.5 or fine particulate matter. This is a cocktail of chemical and biological contaminants including house dust and volatile organic compounds, such as the chemicals found in cleaning products. The samples will be exposed to PM2.5 or fine particulate matter alone and in combination, including with other airborne materials such as pollen and viruses.

The team will also measure natural exposures in the homes of pregnant women, how women respond to this environment and then follow the health of their babies as they grow up.

UK Research and Innovation release