Chemical in Smoke May Pose Health Risk05/16/11
MONDAY, May 16 (HealthDay News) -- A chemical in smoke from
cigarettes, forest fires and cooking/heating fires may pose a
health risk, a new study indicates.
Researchers designed a custom mass spectrometer to look at
levels of the chemical, isocyanic acid, in the atmosphere. Until
now, it was difficult to detect the chemical with conventional
measurement techniques, explained the U.S. National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists and their
They tested and found isocyanic acid in the air in urban Los
Angeles; in the air in Boulder, Colo. downwind of a 2010 wildfire;
in laboratory burning experiments at high concentrations; and in
They also found that isocyanic acid dissolves readily in water,
which means people can experience direct exposure to the chemical
if it gets in their eyes or lungs.
The study appears in this week's issue of the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The health effects of isocyanic acid aren't fully known. In the
body, isocyanic acid is part of a chemical pathway associated with
cataracts and inflammation that can lead to cardiovascular disease
and rheumatoid arthritis, the researchers noted.
"There are literally billions of people in the world who burn biomass for cooking and heating," study author Jim Roberts, a chemist with NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, said in an administration news release.
"If these indoor fires release similar levels of isocyanic acid as the fires we studied in the laboratory, families could be exposed to high levels of the chemical," he added.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has more about
smoke from agricultural and forest fires.
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