Nicotine in third-hand smoke, the residue from tobacco smoke that clings to virtually all surfaces long after a cigarette has been extinguished, reacts with the common indoor air pollutant nitrous acid to produce dangerous carcinogens. This new potential health hazard was revealed in a multi-institutional study led by researchers with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).
"The burning of tobacco releases nicotine in the form of a vapor that adsorbs strongly onto indoor surfaces, such as walls, floors, carpeting, drapes and furniture. Nicotine can persist on those materials for days, weeks and even months. Our study shows that when this residual nicotine reacts with ambient nitrous acid it forms carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines or TSNAs," says Hugo Destaillats, a chemist with the Indoor Environment Department of Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division. "TSNAs are among the most broadly acting and potent carcinogens present in unburned tobacco and tobacco smoke."
Destaillats is the corresponding author of a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) titled "Formation of carcinogens indoors by surface-mediated reactions of nicotine with nitrous acid, leading to potential third-hand smoke hazards."
Co-authoring the PNAS paper with Destaillats were Mohamad Sleiman, Lara Gundel and Brett Singer, all with Berkeley Lab's Indoor Environment Department, plus James Pankow with Portland State University, and Peyton Jacob with the University of California, San Francisco.
The authors report that in laboratory tests using cellulose as a model indoor material exposed to smoke, levels of newly formed TSNAs detected on cellulose surfaces were 10 times higher than those originally present in the sample following exposure for three hours to a "high but reasonable" concentration of nitrous acid (60 parts per billion by volume). Unvented gas appliances are th
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DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory