Scientist John Incardona reported on a previously unrecognized threat to human health from a ubiquitous class of air pollutants in a recent symposium.*
Incardona's presentation delves into how one type of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, a compound found in oil, damaged the developing hearts of Pacific herring and pink salmon embryos after the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989.
Certain PAHs were recognized as carcinogenic more than a century ago, but a class of PAHs with a different structure was ruled out as a carcinogen and was largely ignored. What Incardona learned was that this class of PAHs, also found in oil, is toxic to the developing hearts of fish.
This same class of PAHs is found in emissions from the burning of gasoline and other petroleum products; emissions that are ubiquitous in urban air.
"There is now an emerging link between ambient urban air and human heart diseases," Incardona said. "Our analysis indicates that these airborne contaminants are likely to be toxic to the human heart when inhaled and should be considered prime suspects in the cardiovascular impacts of urban air."
*Incardona of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration joined five other scientists from the U.S. government, Canadian government and academia in the symposium entitled "From Kitchen Sinks to Ocean Basins: Emerging Chemical Contaminants and Human Health." Organized by NOAA's Oceans and Human Health Initiative, the symposium is one of the features of the AAAS annual meeting recently held in Boston.
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