NOAA: Smoke-related chemical discovered in the atmosphere could have health implications

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on May 16, 2011

News release: “Cigarette smoking, forest fires and woodburning can release a chemical that may be at least partly responsible for human health problems related to smoke exposure, according to a new study by NOAA researchers and their colleagues. Using a custom mass spectrometer designed by the researchers, the NOAA-led team was able get the first look at levels of the chemical, isocyanic acid, in the atmosphere. Isocyanic acid has been difficult to detect with conventional measurement techniques. “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,” said Jim Roberts, lead author of the new paper and a chemist with NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo. “We also demonstrated that it dissolves readily in water, which means that humans can be exposed directly if it gets into eyes or lungs.”

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