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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Health Note/Urban Distress

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on a new study has found that common pollutants may contribute to low birth rate in minority children.


Just ahead, how best to save elephants and other creatures on the edge of extinction. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.


TOOMEY: A group of Columbia University researchers have found that common pollutants may play a role in adverse birth outcomes in minority children, such as low birth weight. More than 260 non-smoking women from New York City participated in the study. The women, all African or Dominican-Americans wore an air monitor over a two-day period during their third trimester. The monitor measured pollutants present in automobile exhaust. The researchers also tested the mother's blood and the newborn's umbilical cord blood for the presence of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide once heavily applied in New York City.

After researchers took into account variables such as maternal age and alcohol use, they found that among African-Americans prenatal exposure to high levels of auto exhaust was associated with a nine percent reduction in birth weight, and a two percent reduction in infant head circumference. A number of other studies have linked smaller head circumference with lower IQ and a drop in school performance.

The auto exhaust, however, did not effect the Dominican babies, although researchers can't explain why. Both groups showed reduced birth weight and length due to their exposure to the pesticide chlorpyrifos. That's this week's Health Note. I'm Diane Toomey.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Tito Puente “Take 5” THE VERY BEST OF LATIN JAZZ 2 (GT, 1999)]
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Coming up, guy talk in the songs of humpback whales. First, this note from our webmaster.


CURWOOD: From Auckland to Zanzibar there are animals that have gone extinct, in some cases, leaving only the slimmest traces of their existence. Author Tim Flannery searched the globe to tell their stories.

FLANNERY: Sometimes I go into a place like the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and a whole drawer would be opened up, and every specimen in that big drawer where there are hundreds of stuffed birds, all of them were extinct.

CURWOOD: Starting Monday, November 11, visit the Living on Earth website to learn the fate of these animals, including the story of Steven's Island Wren and Tibbles the Cat.

FLANNERY: In 1894, the New Zealand government built a lighthouse there, and the lonely lighthouse keeper decided that he must have a cat for company. Within a year or so, that solitary feline had caught every one of the island's tiny wrens. Tibbles then brought them, one by one, and very much dead, to David Lisle's door.

CURWOOD: For illustrations, photos, and more stories from Tim Flannery's, “A Gap in Nature,” visit LOE.org. That's LOE.org starting Monday, November 11.



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