By airing and ventilating your home using a ventilation system, you reduce your exposure to harmful combustion products. This is what emerges from the latest results of the health study 3xG, which measures exposure to pollutants in 300 babies and their mothers from Dessel, Mol and Retie. The study was commissioned by NIRAS and the partnerships STORA (Dessel) and MONA (Mol).
To what extent are pregnant women from Dessel, Mol and Retie exposed to combustion products such as carcinogenic PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) or benzene? And what factors influence the exposure? The researchers of the 3xG study sought answers to these questions. Researchers analysed urine samples from 301 women, which they collected between 2011 and 2015. “This research is unique in Flanders. The exposure to combustion products in pregnant women has never been measured before”, says Nathalie Lambrechts from VITO.
Airing and ventilating
The results show that mothers who smoke have twice as much PAHs and benzene in their urine. Moreover, researchers found that women who had faced heavy traffic by bike or on foot a few days before the sampling, had one third more PAHs in their urine.
Even indoors we are faced with pollutants, for example when cooking and heating our homes with biomass or fossil fuels. However, the researchers made a striking finding: you can take effective measures to be less exposed to PAHs. “We found that women who often air their home and who have a ventilation system, have one third less fewer PAHs in their urine. This is a remarkable difference with participants who solely open their windows or those who only have their ventilation system turned on”, says Nathalie Lambrechts.
Impact particulate matter on DNA
The 3xG researchers also studied to what extent the Kempen mothers were exposed to particulate matter. As in the rest of Flanders, the strict threshold of the World Health Organisation (WHO) was exceeded in the region where the mothers lived. What we did meet was the more flexible European standard. The researchers discovered that the high concentrations of particulate matter were associated with DNA damage. “But our DNA usually repairs itself, without any consequences for our health. The results of the DNA damage measurements in the 3xG mothers and their babies were low and comparable to other results in Flanders.”
Health monitoring as a local condition
The study is carried out by the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO), the University of Antwerp (UA) and the Provincial Institute for Hygiene (PIH) commissioned by NIRAS. It fits into the framework of the construction of the surface disposal installation for low and intermediate level short-lived waste that NIRAS is preparing in Dessel in collaboration with local partners STORA (Dessel) and MONA (Mol). Continuous health monitoring is one of the requirements of the local communities to accept this installation on their territory. In 2010, 3xG was launched as a feasibility study to find out how the health of an entire region can be monitored. At present, 300 mothers and their babies from Dessel, Mol and Retie are taking part in the study; they are the first birth cohort. Every ten years the research will be expanded with a new cohort of 300 new participants.
Personal health screening
The technique applied in the 3xG study is human biomonitoring. With this method, researchers are looking at biomarkers in blood and urine samples, representing contaminants and health effects in the body.
Thus, one can determine whether there is a connection with polluting substances that are present in the region, and whether the contents in the body cause harmful effects. The analyses of all 300 participants are interpreted at group level. Consequently, the resulting findings are of interest to all inhabitants in the region. A second part of the study compares the official figures on illnesses and deaths in the municipalities of Dessel, Mol and Retie with the rest of the country.
More information about the study can be found at www.studie3xg.be.