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American Chemical Society's Weekly PressPac -- Aug. 13, 2008


Robert J. Linhardt, Ph.D.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies
Troy, NY 12180
Phone: 518-276-3404
Fax: 518-276-3405


Newly detected air pollutant mimics damaging effects of cigarette smoke

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: Sunday, Aug. 17, 2:15 p.m., Eastern Time

A previously unrecognized group of air pollutants could have effects remarkably similar to harmful substances found in tobacco smoke, Louisiana scientists are reporting. Inhaling those pollutants exposes the average person up to 300 times more free radicals daily than from smoking one cigarette, they added. The discovery could help explain the long-standing medical mystery of why non-smokers develop tobacco-related diseases like lung cancer, said study leader H. Barry Dellinger.

Scientists have long known that free radicals exist in the atmosphere. These atoms, molecules, and fragments of molecules are highly reactive and damage cells in the body. Free radicals form during the burning of fuels or in photochemical processes like those that form ozone. Most of these previously identified atmospheric free radicals form as gases, exist for less than one second, and disappear. In contrast, the newly detected molecules which Dellinger terms persistent free radicals (PFRs) form on airborne nanoparticles and other fine particle residues as gases cool in smokestacks, automotive exhaust pipes and household chimneys. Particles that contain metals, such as copper and iron, are the most likely to persist, he said. Unlike other atmospheric free radicals, PFRs can linger in the air and travel great distances.

Once PFRs are inhaled, Dellinger suspects they are absorbed into the lungs and other tissues where they contribute to DNA and other cellular damage. Epidemiologica

Contact: Michael Woods
American Chemical Society

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