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    Study links sooty pollution, genetic mutations

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sooty air pollution can cause genetic damage that can be passed along to offspring, Canadian researchers reported in a study on mice.

    Follow-up work is needed to learn if people can inherit pollution-damaged DNA that harms their health. In the meantime, the discovery is sure to increase scientists' worry about particulates, the microscopic soot particles emitted by factories, power plants and diesel-burning vehicles.

    The good news: Air filters protected the mice.

    "The new work now adds another area of potential concern" because of the implications for risks to future generations, said Dr. Jonathan Samet of Johns Hopkins University, who headed a recent National Academy of Sciences call for more research into the dangers of this common pollutant.

    These airborne particles are linked to a growing list of health problems, including asthma and heart disease, in the people who breathe high levels of them.

    But there had been little evidence that any air pollutant might cause the kind of genetic damage that can be inherited -- until Canadian scientists in 2002 housed mice downwind from steel mills and tested their offspring. The males passed on double the DNA mutations as mice living in the cleaner countryside.