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Dirrty Air

Pollution causes genetic damage!

By: Margerry Yuhico

We already know that air pollution is hazardous to our health because it’s linked to respiratory illnesses, but that’s nothing compared with what scientists have just discovered.

A recent study has found that breathing soot from factories or busy highways causes genetic damage, which means that the damage can be passed on to future generations.

In 2002, Canadian scientists from McMaster University in Ontario placed mice downwind from steel mills and tested their offspring. The exposed male mice passed on twice as many DNA mutations compared to those living in the cleaner countryside.

In 2004, the same scientists reported in the journal Science that the cause of the mutations was airborne particulate matter (or soot) coming from factories, power plants and diesel-powered vehicles.

In their latest experiments, scientists housed two groups of mice near the steel mills for 10 weeks. One group was exposed to outside air and the others were exposed to filtered air. When the mice were bred, they found that those breathing filtered air had DNA mutation rates 52 percent lower than those exposed to the outside air. Dr. James Quinn, a McMaster biologist, said that mutations do not alter the actual appearance or physiology of the offspring.

So is putting air filters in homes or moving to the country the answer to cleaner air?

Not quite. There is a simpler way, use trees.

Dr. Quinn said that leaves on trees act as natural air filters catching soot.

The Environmental Protection Agency has already ordered tougher limits on pollution, including cuts in pollutants from smokestacks and tailpipes. In April, the EPA announced that 170 million Americans live in areas “too smoggy to be healthy.” Areas on the EPA’s air pollution list have to institute smokestack controls on power plants and other industries, require cleaner gasoline, and enforce mandatory car emission inspection programs. In December, the EPA plans to announce the areas in the country breaking the rules.

Although the DNA mutations, caused by pollution, are not linked to any diseases, pollution has been linked to asthma, heart disease and other health problems.

Wondering if you live in an overly polluted area? Find out on the EPA’s web site: http://www.epa.gov/oar/oaqps/greenbk/pindex.html.

Several Areas of the Country on the EPA’s list for high Particulate Matter:

Los Angeles South Coast Air Basin, CA (SERIOUS)
Phoenix, AZ (SERIOUS)
New Haven CT (MODERATE)
New York Co, NY (MODERATE)
El Paso Co, TX (MODERATE)
Sacramento, CA (MODERATE)


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0 0 640 01 July, 2004 Green, Health July 1, 2004

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