According to a news release from Oregon State University, Oregon State researchers have found novel compounds generated by certain kinds of chemical reactions that are hundreds of times more mutagenic than their parent compounds which are known carcinogens. The compounds are produced by chemical reactions found in vehicle exhaust or grilling meat.
These compounds were not previously known to exist, and raise new concerns about the health effects of air pollution or dietary exposure.
The compounds were discovered in laboratory experiments that imitate the kinds of environment which might be produced by combustion and exhaust in cars, or the cooking of meat over a flame.
“Some of the compounds that we’ve discovered are far more mutagenic than we previously understood, and may exist in the environment as a result of heavy air pollution from vehicles or some types of food preparation,” posited Staci Simonich, a professor of chemistry and toxicology at Oregon State, in a statement. “We don’t know at this point what levels may be present, and will explore that in continued research.”
The parent compounds are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) developed naturally as the result of nearly any kind of combustion. Many PAHs, are known to be carcinogenic, and are the subject of in-depth research at Oregon State. According to scientists, PAHs are even more problematic when they chemically interact with nitrogen to become “nitrated” (NPAHs). The novel compounds are NPAHs.
This study discovered that the direct mutagenicity of the NPAHs with one nitrogen group can increase 6 to 432 times more than the parent compound. Mutagens are chemicals that can lead to DNA damage in cells that can eventually cause cancer. Researchers note that these numbers may actually underestimate the increase in toxicity.
These findings are a continuation of research on PAHs that was conducted by Simonich at the Beijing Summer Olympic Games in 2008. Beijing has major issues with air quality, and may be 10-50 times more polluted than some major urban areas in the U.S. with air pollution issues.
The study’s results are described in greater detail in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.