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Diesel Fumes Poison Babies in the Womb During   pregnancy   women   crave   for   strange   foods.   Strange   as   it   may   seem,   some   even   crave   for   “diesel   fumes”.   Diesel   fuel is   a   complex   mixture   of   aromatic   hydrocarbons   produced   by   distilling   crude   oil.   For   some   time,   s cientists   have   been   indicating that   the   pollution   caused   by   diesel   fumes   is   a   serious   health   risk.   They   have   now   found   that   tiny   particles   of   soot, released   by   diesel   engines,   pass   through   a   woman’s   lung   and,   through   the   placenta,   to   the   foetus.   There   they   release chemicals   called   polycyclic   aromatic   hydrocarbons   (PAH),   which   act   as   a   neurotoxin,   damaging   brain   development.    PAH are   produced   by   many   sources   when   fuel   and organic   substances   are   not   burnt   properly.   The biggest   source   of   PAH   is   from   diesel   engines   of motor vehicles in very crowded cities. The   researchers,   led   by   Amy   Margolis,   a   medical psychologist     at     Columbia     University     Medical Centre   in   New   York,   tracked   462   children   from the   time   they   were   conceived   to   the   time   they were   aged   between   12   and   18.   Blood   samples were   taken   from   the   mother   and   also   from   the umbilical   cord,   when   the   children   were   born,   to check    the    levels    of    pollution    mothers    were exposed   to.      They   then   tracked   the   children’s development.   The   results   showed   that   children   exposed   to   lowest   pollutant   levels   tended   to   mature   normally,   learnt   to   control   their impulses   and   formed   good   relationship   with   their   peers.   Those   exposed   to   higher   levels   of   pollutants   tended   to   remain impulsive,   were   slow   to   develop   social   skills   and   did   not   make   good   friends.   There   was   also   the   fear   that   they   had   a higher risk of becoming antisocial. Exposure   to   high   levels   of   PAH   during   the   last   three   months   of   pregnancy   also   carried   an   increased   risk   of   developing autism   in   new   born   children.    In   another   study,   Columbia   researchers,   led   by   Bradley   Peterson,   scanned   the   brains   of   40 children.   The   results   suggested   that   children,   who   were   exposed   to   higher   levels   of   PAH   at   the   pre-natal   stage,   had reduced   growth   of   white   matter   in   the   brain.   White   matter   is   responsible   for   how   the   brain   learns   and   functions.   It   is   also responsible    for    co-ordination    and    communication    between    different    regions    of    the    brain.    These    children    exhibited symptoms   of   “Attention   Deficit   Hyperactivity   Disorder”   (ADHD)   and   behavioral   problems.   Similar   findings   were   noted during the days when petrol had lead compounds added to it. When   I   see   the   increasing   number   of   two   wheelers   on   the   crowded   roads   in   India,   I   dread   to   think   of   the   number   of people   being   poisoned   by   exhaust   fumes   from   vehicles.   Today   we   see   more   and   more   young   women   riding   motor   bikes and   scooters.   Maternal   toxicity,   as   a   result   of   acute   exposure   to   diesel   fumes   during   pregnancy,   is   likely   to   be   a   major determinant of the risk posed to the developing  foetus. If   you   consider   preserving   the   health   of   the   next   generation   in   your   country,   it   is   important   that   women   take   extra care to avoid breathing polluted air containing diesel fumes when they are pregnant. K. Badrinath