Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Smoke chemical 'may threaten health'

John von Radowitz in the Sydney Morning Herald: A hidden danger in wood and tobacco smoke could be contributing to health problems such as cataracts, arthritis and heart disease, scientists say. The threat comes from the chemical isocyanic acid (HNCO), which dissolves into the moist tissues of the body and promotes inflammation.

It is released into the atmosphere by forest fires and wood burning, and is also present at high levels in cigarette smoke. But currently isocyanic acid, which is difficult to detect, is not listed as a "harmful" or "potentially harmful" element of wood smoke or tobacco products.

Scientists in the US used a specially designed mass spectrometer - a machine that carries out chemical analysis by using a magnetic field to deflect atoms - to study exposure levels of isocyanic acid.

Lead researcher Dr Jim Roberts, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado, said: "We found isocyanic acid in a number of places, from air in downtown Los Angeles and air downwind of a Colorado wildfire, to cigarette smoke…

The Los Angeles Station fire in 2009, shot by Ron Reiring, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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