(NaturalNews) New research from Oregon State University (OSU) has discovered entirely new mutagenic compounds derived from carcinogenic parent compounds. These newly discovered compounds can be found billowing from vehicle exhaust - which is pumped into the air we breathe. The study also shows that these compounds can be found in grilled meat under certain conditions.
Deeply concerning, these mutagenic compounds have the ability to destroy DNA, thus welcoming cancer. Mutagenic compounds such as these represent epigenetic factors that can change good DNA, turning cells into cancer harbors.
How are these new mutagenic compounds created?
The new mutagenic compounds are the product of chemical reactions in combustion, most notably, vehicle exhaust. The study, published in the December issue of Environmental Science & Technology, reports that the same chemical reaction occurs when meat is grilled and that these compounds are "hundreds of times more mutagenic than their parent compounds."
"Some of the compounds that we've discovered are far more mutagenic than we previously understood, and may exist in the environment as a result of heavy air pollution from vehicles or some types of food preparation," said Staci Simonich, a professor of chemistry and toxicology at the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences.
In the laboratory experiments, scientists mimicked engine combustion and isolated new mutagenic compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) coming from exhaust. These PAHs were also found in grilled meat cooked over a flame. These compounds are formed during the combustion of almost anything, including engines, wood stoves, coal-fired power plants and even cigarettes.
But these compounds don't become dangerous until nitrogen gets involved. When nitrogen interacts with PAHs, the compounds become "nitrated," and become carcinogenic. This carcinogenic activity can be seen during the formation of one PAH, benzopyrene. Benzopyrene is a known carcinogen because of its interaction with nitrogen.
New nitrated compounds possess mutagenic activity many times greater than parent compounds
The new mutagenic compounds discovered in this OSU investigation are, in fact, PAHs interacting with nitrogen. This is where these new "nitrated" compounds become dangerous.
"We don't know at this point what levels may be present, and will explore that in continued research," says Simonich.
The severity of their mutagenic activity goes beyond their parent compounds. The study of these new "nitrated" PAH (NPAH) compounds finds that their mutagenic prowess can increase "6 to 432 times greater than their parent compounds."
The discovery of these compounds began during research at the Beijing Summer Olympics of 2008. Then, Simonich and others set out to study urban air quality and its impact on visitors and athletes. This area of the world is approximately 10-50 times more polluted than any other place on the planet and was the first proving ground for the new combustion-exhaust-based compounds.
New NPAH compounds are carcinogenic air pollutants
It's hard to understand the carcinogenic effect of these compounds in grilled meat, but the greatest concern for agencies like the The World Health Organization is their presence in air pollution. Now declaring exhaust to be carcinogenic, the agency says highly polluted areas create a host of health problems for city dwellers. This is mainly because PAHs are one of the main types of pollutants found in air pollution matter. The newly discovered NPAHs are only going to ring more alarms in the coming years.
Simonich's upcoming work will focus on these compounds' impact in remote regions. He plans to study the air surrounding Oregon's Mount Bachelor, a 9,065-foot mountain in the central Oregon Cascade Range. Simonich wants to determine the impact that air pollution may have after traveling across the Pacific Ocean.
Further studies are needed to evaluate safe levels of NPAHs in dietary consumption of grilled meat.
For now, vehicle exhaust may be much more toxic than many understand.