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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Scientists Increasingly Link Vehicle Exhaust With Brain-Cell Damage,Higher Rates of Autism .

Congested cities are fast becoming test tubes for scientists studying the impact of traffic fumes on the brain. As roadways choke on traffic, researchers suspect that the tailpipe exhaust from cars and trucks—especially tiny carbon particles already implicated in heart disease, cancer and respiratory ailments—may also injure brain cells and synapses key to learning and memory. Columbia University's Frederica Perera discusses the link between exposure to pollutants in the womb and mental impacts in children. Plus, how New York City - one of the most congested cities in the U.S. - is improving traffic flow. New public-health studies and laboratory experiments suggest that, at every stage of life, traffic fumes exact a measurable toll on mental capacity, intelligence and emotional stability. "There are more and more scientists trying to find whether and why exposure to traffic exhaust can damage the human brain," says medical epidemiologist Jiu-Chiuan Chen at the University of Southern California who is analyzing the effects of traffic pollution on the brain health of 7,500 women in 22 states. "The human data are very new." So far, the evidence is largely circumstantial but worrisome, researchers say. And no one is certain yet of the consequences for brain biology or behavior. "There is real cause for concern," says neurochemist Annette Kirshner at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. "But we ought to proceed with caution."

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