New study explores impact of indoor air pollution on child health

Researchers at Swansea University have launched a major study to discover how everyday pollution impacts on the development and health of fetuses and children.

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.

The new study will be the first to track how the function of different organs such as the lungs and brain is impacted by pollution in the home, work, and other indoor places we visit, exploring how pregnant women might respond differently to air pollution.

Previous studies have shown that air pollution can impact the size of babies and premature birth.

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.

woman holding stomach

Prof 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.’

To conduct the study, biological samples will be obtained from pregnant volunteers at various trimesters, with scientists then analysing the effects of airborne materials on the samples.

The samples will be exposed to PM2.5, alone and in combination 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.

The four-year project has received £3.4 million funding from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through its Strategic Priorities Fund clean air programme.

The programme aims to increase multidisciplinary research in key areas of air quality including human health.

Professor Sir Stephen Holgate, UKRI’s Clean Air Champion, commented: ‘Poor air quality affects millions of lives, but the impact of pollutants indoors is little understood. Funding research in this area is a key priority of UK Research and Innovation. By sharing our findings with local and national government, business, charities and the public, we hope this research will reduce the ill-effects of pregnancy air pollution exposures on child health.’

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