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Biomarkers Effective for Studying Pollution Exposure

Biomarkers Effective for Studying Pollution Exposure

ANAHEIM, Calif—“Recent studies have shown biomarkers to be very effective tools in the study of pollution and its effects on individuals,” reported Joellen Lewtas, PhD, senior research scientist, Office of Environmental Quality, EPA, Seattle, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting.

Speaking at a symposium on mixed environmental hazards and cancer, she said that “biomarkers can provide very specific evidence of exposures and can provide bases for tracking effects and studying susceptible individuals.”

Dr. Lewtas reported on a study conducted in the so-called black triangle of Northern Bohemia in the Czech Republic, an area of heavy industry and strip mining very severely affected by air pollution. “In the city of Teplice, air pollution accounts for a 1- to 2-year decrease in life expectancy, increased rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease, and increased rates of birth defects and low birth weight,” Dr. Lewtas said.

Residents generally blame the area’s severe air pollution on industry. “In fact,” she said, “40% of the pollution comes from residential burning of soft coal for heat, a practice encouraged during the Soviet period by a policy of giving the local coal to local households.”

The air pollution contains very small particles with adsorbed organic materials that are carried to the lungs, she said. In addition, nitrous oxide from burned diesel fuel makes low-molecular-weight compounds carcinogenic.

For the study, postal workers wore portable personal respiration monitors. The data from the monitors allowed the researchers to measure various biomarkers that can show pollution exposure, the internal dose received, and the dose that has a biologic effect on an individual. The study also measured potential confounders such as cigarette smoking.

“Many studies using biomarkers miss because they lack good exposure measures,” she noted. “Using such biomarkers as absorption and transport, metabolic balance, DNA repair, and cell turnover, the study was able to track the biologic effects of pollutants on individuals.”

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