Toxicologists at Nijmegen University have discovered substances in the bodies of test subjects caused by diesel exhaust and which can act as bio-markers. Such markers are necessary to determine health risks in the workplace. Until now, the risk of lung cancer from inhaling diesel soot particles has been assessed on the basis of cases of lung cancer in related occupational groups, for example drivers. The research was funded by the NWO's Technology Foundation STW.
The Dutch toxicologists discovered that office staff, unloaders and drivers at an indoor transport company were exposed to almost the same extent as a result of ineffective ventilation of the office building. This shows how unreliable risk assessments based on occupational groups can be. To improve health conditions at work, it is necessary in many cases to test individual employees.
The diesel residues identified are products created by the degradation of 1-nitropyrene, one of the organic substances which attach themselves to the core of particles of carbon in the diesel soot. In the human body, the organic compounds and the carbon core disintegrate and are then metabolized. Toxicologists are able to detect the degradation product of 1-nitropyrene amongst the numerous metabolites in the urine and blood at an amount of at least 4.10-10 milligrams. To determine the damage caused by smoking, it is sufficient to have a detection limit thousands of times higher.
The Nijmegen research team have already developed a method of determining the
concentration of 1-nitropyrene in air. Measuring the decomposition products of this
substance in the body now makes it possible to take account of individual differences in
uptake, conversion, and excretion. Major differences in the individual uptake of the
harmful substances are possible even when subjects are exposed to the same quantities.
This is because the quantity of air inhaled, hygiene when dealing with dusty objects and
Contact: Henk Klomp
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research