Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Biomedical scientist concerned about effects of oil spill on human health

Date:
June 25, 2010
Source:
University of Rhode Island
Summary:
A biomedical researcher says that some of the same chemicals found in diesel fumes and cigarette smoke are also found in the tar balls produced as a result of the oil spill, and he is worried about the effect they will have on the health of clean-up workers and wildlife.

URI Pharmacy Professor Bongsup Cho points to a 3-D animation of a cancer molecule during one of his classes. Cho studies the effects of environmental toxins such as cigarette smoke, diesel fumes and charred meat on DNA mutation as potential triggers for cancer. Cho said the cancer-causing chemicals found in those three can also be found in the crude oil spreading throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
Credit: URI photo by Joe Giblin

University 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 as a biomarker to detect human exposure to toxins."

The researcher said a carcinogen usually has mutagenic and teratogenic effects on cells, meaning it can cause mutations in DNA and cause birth defects.

A study of the blood of individuals who worked on the Exxon Valdez cleanup following the spill in March of 1989 found DNA damage in those subjects. "DNA damage in certain functionally important areas of the genome can be a precursor to various human cancers," Cho said.

While individuals can get sick when volatile organic compounds evaporate, they would have to absorb the non-volatile compounds through ingestion or actual physical contact, he added.

"It has been reported that the size of the Gulf oil spill is unprecedented, much greater than that of the the (land mass) of New England area combined. You have to wonder about the fate of the crude oil that has not come ashore and recovered and what long term effects such toxins will have on the food chain," Cho said. "The pollutants from these toxins are going to be there for a long time."

Cho is worried about another phenomena from the spill-- the orange sheen seen on the surface of the gulf.

"That orange sheen is a result of a chemical reaction involving the sun, the crude oil and the oil dispersants," Cho said. "But nobody knows what's in that color and how toxic the chemicals are. Companies keep the chemical makeup of the dispersants secret.

"Crude oil, like diesel fuel and cigarette smoke, contain thousands of chemicals, and we have studied only a few, so the big worry is the unknown activity of those chemicals we have not studied. According to the recent Cancer Advisory Board report to President Barack Obama, Americans are constantly exposed to chemicals. There are 80,000 of them, and we only know a little about them."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Rhode Island. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Rhode Island. "Biomedical scientist concerned about effects of oil spill on human health." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 June 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100624104806.htm>.
University of Rhode Island. (2010, June 25). Biomedical scientist concerned about effects of oil spill on human health. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100624104806.htm
University of Rhode Island. "Biomedical scientist concerned about effects of oil spill on human health." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100624104806.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 24, 2014) The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, mainly known for conflict and instability, is an unlikely place for the production of fine cheese. But a farm in the village of Masisi, in North Kivu is slowly transforming perceptions of the area. Known simply as Goma cheese, the Congolese version of Dutch gouda has gained popularity through out the region. Ciara Sutton reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bill Gates: Health, Agriculture Key to Africa's Development

Bill Gates: Health, Agriculture Key to Africa's Development

AFP (July 24, 2014) Health and agriculture development are key if African countries are to overcome poverty and grow, US software billionaire Bill Gates said Thursday, as he received an honourary degree in Ethiopia. Duration: 00:36 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Higgins Breaks Record at Mt. Washington

Higgins Breaks Record at Mt. Washington

Driving Sports (July 24, 2014) Subaru Rally Team USA drivers David Higgins and Travis Pastrana face off against a global contingent of racers at the annual Mt. Washington Hillclimb in New Hampshire. Includes exclusive in-car footage from Higgins' record attempt. Video provided by Driving Sports
Powered by NewsLook.com
Storm Kills Three, Injures 20 at Virginia Campground

Storm Kills Three, Injures 20 at Virginia Campground

Reuters - US Online Video (July 24, 2014) A likely tornado tears through an eastern Virginia campground, killing three and injuring at least 20. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile: iPhone Android Web
          Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins