September 30 | 2019

Ambient black carbon particles reach the fetal side of human placenta.

Hannelore Bové, Eva Bongaerts, Eli Slenders, Esmée M. Bijnens, Nelly D. Saenen, Wilfried Gyselaers, Peter Van Eyken, Michelle Plusquin, Maarten B. J. Roeffaers, Marcel Ameloot & Tim S. Nawrot.

Nature Communications volume 10, Article number: 3866 (2019) | Published: 17 September 2019  DOI



Particle transfer across the placenta has been suggested but to date, no direct evidence in real-life, human context exists. Here we report the presence of black carbon (BC) particles as part of combustion-derived particulate matter in human placentae using white-light generation under femtosecond pulsed illumination. BC is identified in all screened placentae, with an average (SD) particle count of 0.95 × 104 (0.66 × 104) and 2.09 × 104 (0.9 × 104) particles per mm3 for low and high exposed mothers, respectively. Furthermore, the placental BC load is positively associated with mothers’ residential BC exposure during pregnancy (0.63–2.42 µg per m3). Our finding that BC particles accumulate on the fetal side of the placenta suggests that ambient particulates could be transported towards the fetus and represents a potential mechanism explaining the detrimental health effects of pollution from early life onwards.

September 23 | 2019

Assessing the micro-scale environment using Google Street View: the Virtual Systematic Tool for Evaluating Pedestrian Streetscapes (Virtual-STEPS). 

Steinmetz-Wood M, Velauthapillai K, O’Brien G, Ross NA.

BMC Public Health. 2019 Sep 10;19(1):1246. doi: 10.1186/s12889-019-7460-3




Altering micro-scale features of neighborhood walkability (e.g., benches, sidewalks, and cues of social disorganization or crime) could be a relatively cost-effective method of creating environments that are conducive to active living. Traditionally, measuring the micro-scale environment has required researchers to perform observational audits. Technological advances have led to the development of virtual audits as alternatives to observational field audits with the enviable properties of cost-efficiency from elimination of travel time and increased safety for auditors. This study examined the reliability of the Virtual Systematic Tool for Evaluating Pedestrian Streetscapes (Virtual-STEPS), a Google Street View-based auditing tool specifically designed to remotely assess micro-scale characteristics of the built environment.


We created Virtual-STEPS, a tool with 40 items categorized into 6 domains (pedestrian infrastructure, traffic calming and streets, building characteristics, bicycling infrastructure, transit, and aesthetics). Items were selected based on their past abilities to predict active living and on their feasibility for a virtual auditing tool. Two raters performed virtual and field audits of street segments in Montreal neighborhoods stratified by the Walkscore that was used to determine the ‘walking-friendliness’ of a neighborhood. The reliability between virtual and field audits (n = 40), as well as inter-rater reliability (n = 60) were assessed using percent agreement, Cohen’s Kappa statistic, and the Intra-class Correlation Coefficient.


Virtual audits and field audits (excluding travel time) took similar amounts of time to perform (9.8 versus 8.2 min). Percentage agreement between virtual and field audits, and for inter-rater agreement was 80% or more for the majority of items included in the Virtual-STEPS tool. There was high reliability between virtual and field audits with Kappa and ICC statistics indicating that 20 out of 40 (50.0%) items had almost perfect agreement and 13 (32.5%) items had substantial agreement. Inter-rater reliability was also high with 17 items (42.5%) with almost perfect agreement and 11 (27.5%) items with substantial agreement.


Virtual-STEPS is a reliable tool. Tools that measure the micro-scale environment are important because changing this environment could be a relatively cost-effective method of creating environments that are conducive to active living.

September 9 | 2019

Prenatal exposure to traffic-related air pollution, the gestational epigenetic clock and risk of early-life allergic sensitization.

Sbihi H, Jones MJ, MacIsaac JL, Brauer M, Allen RW, Sears MR, Subbarao P, Mandhane PJ, Moraes TJ, Azad MB, Becker AB, Brook JR, Kobor MS, Turvey SE. 

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2019 Aug 27. pii: S0091-6749(19)31101-7. [Epub ahead of print] DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2019.07.047



Prenatal exposure to traffic-related air pollution is associated with an increased risk of allergic sensitization by modifying in utero development and altering the gestational epigenetic clock.

September 3 | 2019

Ambient Air Pollution and the Risk of Atrial Fibrillation and Stroke: A Population-Based Cohort Study.

Shin S, Burnett RT, Kwong JC, Hystad P, van Donkelaar A, Brook JR, Goldberg MS, Tu K, Copes R, Martin RV, Liu Y, Kopp A, Chen H.

Environ Health Perspect. 2019 Aug;127(8):87009. Epub 2019 Aug 26. DOI:10.1289/EHP4883




Although growing evidence links air pollution to stroke incidence, less is known about the effect of air pollution on atrial fibrillation (AF), an important risk factor for stroke.


We assessed the associations between air pollution and incidence of AF and stroke. We also sought to characterize the shape of pollutant-disease relationships.


The population-based cohort comprised 5,071,956 Ontario residents, age 35-85 y and without the diagnoses of both outcomes on 1 April 2001 and was followed up until 31 March 2015. AF and stroke cases were ascertained using health administrative databases with validated algorithms. Based on annual residential postal codes, we assigned 5-y running average concentrations of fine particulate matter ([Formula: see text]), nitrogen dioxide ([Formula: see text]), and ozone ([Formula: see text]) from satellite-derived data, a land-use regression model, and a fusion-based method, respectively, as well as redox-weighted averages of [Formula: see text] and [Formula: see text] ([Formula: see text]) for each year. Using Cox proportional hazards models, we estimated the hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) of AF and stroke with each of these pollutants, adjusting for individual- and neighborhood-level variables. We used newly developed nonlinear risk models to characterize the shape of pollutant-disease relationships.


Between 2001 and 2015, we identified 313,157 incident cases of AF and 122,545 cases of stroke. Interquartile range increments of [Formula: see text], [Formula: see text], [Formula: see text], and [Formula: see text] were associated with increases in the incidence of AF [HRs (95% CIs): 1.03 (1.01, 1.04), 1.02 (1.01, 1.03), 1.01 (1.00, 1.02), and 1.01 (1.01, 1.02), respectively] and the incidence of stroke [HRs (95% CIs): 1.05 (1.03, 1.07), 1.04 (1.01, 1.06), 1.05 (1.03, 1.06), and 1.05 (1.04, 1.06), respectively]. Associations of similar magnitude were found in various sensitivity analyses. Furthermore, we found a near-linear association for stroke with [Formula: see text], whereas [Formula: see text], [Formula: see text]-, and [Formula: see text] relationships exhibited sublinear shapes.


Air pollution was associated with stroke and AF onset, even at very low concentrations.