ANAHEIM, CalifRecent 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
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 areas 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
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
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.