KINGSTON, R.I. June 21, 2010University of Rhode Island Pharmacy Professor Bongsup Cho knows there are cancer-causing chemicals in diesel fumes and cigarette smoke.
The biomedical scientist also knows that some of the same chemicals are found in the gooey tar balls that are being produced as a result of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which began April 20 when a rig exploded and caught fire.
But what he and other scientists have little knowledge of is the long-range impact of the spill on humans and wildlife at the cellular level.
Cho studies the effects of environmental toxins such as cigarette smoke, diesel fumes and charred meat on DNA mutation as potential triggers for cancer.
For close to 20 years, the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society have funded Cho's research on mechanistic understanding of DNA damage and its consequences on mutation and repair. "Such research is crucial in the development of effective strategies for chemoprevention and drug development, as well as risk assessment," he said.
Cho said the saturated hydrocarbons found in crude oil, such as methane, hexane and octane, evaporate quickly once in the ocean because they have low boiling points.
"These are the chemicals that can cause the respiratory problems in people involved in cleanup operations, but they are not the ones necessarily known as carcinogens," Cho said.
In many cases, these volatile organic compounds evaporate quickly when exposed to sunlight and heat. "Most would evaporate before people would suffer effects from them," Cho said.
But the tar balls and remaining thick ooze washing ashore and into marshes cause more worry for Cho.
"The tar balls contain the non-volatile, benzene-like, heavily unsaturated hydrocarbons with high boiling points," Cho said. "That's where there are a lot of toxins, such as benzo[a]pyrene. This is a known human carcinogen, and it is used a
|Contact: Dave Lavallee|
University of Rhode Island