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 cause premature birth. But the RESPIRE study is the first to track how the function of different organs such as the lungs and brain is impacted by pollution in the home, work or 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, a cocktail of chemical and biological contaminants including house dust and volatile organic compounds, such as the chemicals found in cleaning products, 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.
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 Program, which aims to increase multi-disciplinary research in key areas of air quality including human health.
Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Executive of the National Institute for Health Research, said: “I’m delighted that NIHR is building on its strong track record in funding air pollution research by partnering with UK Research and Innovation to co-fund the RESPIRE study. This project forms part of a powerful group of four co-funded interdisciplinary consortia tackling the health impacts of changing indoor and outdoor emissions and exposure patterns.”
Professor Paul Lewis, UKRI’s Clean Air Champion for Wales and Professor Emeritus at Swansea University Medical School, said: “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.”
The Clean Air program is jointly delivered by NERC and the Met Office, and partners include the Department of Health and Social Care.