Volume 1, number 2

PAH: food that's more dangerous than pollution

Adolf Vyskocil, a researcher in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health at Université de Montréal, studies risk factors associated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in children. The formation of PAHs derives from the incomplete combustion of organic matter. Wood heating, food, automobile exhaust, cigarettes and several industrial processes are sources of PAH. These are increasingly suspected of being associated with lung and bladder cancer.

Until recently, researchers assumed that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and pyrene, a component of PAHs, found in animals and humans came essentially from pollution. But environmental exposure actually represents a drop in the bucket compared to the quantity of PAHs attributed to food consumption. This is what a study conducted by Adolf Vyskocil on twenty children aged six years and under has shown. The sample was made up of children attending Montréal day care centres, one located close to the Decarie expressway and the other in a so-called "green" area of the city. Urine tests were done to compare levels of PAHs in the body with levels in the air and ground.

The data show that the proportion of PAHs in the ground and air (12 times higher outside the day-care centre located in the polluted area) did not cause any significant difference between the two groups of children. However, the concentration of pyrene linked to food consumption is significantly larger than the concentration associated with environmental exposure. The daily quantity of pyrene estimated from absorption of food was 167 and 186 nanograms for the two groups-troubling figures when compared with pollution levels in the City of London, where a PAH level of 166 nanograms per cubic meter was recorded. The researcher, who is funded by the Quebec Health Research Fund, is currently doing work on the relationship between food and pyrene.

Researcher : Adolf Vyskocil
Phone : (514) 343-6146
Funding : Quebec Health Research Fund (FRSQ), Scientific and Environmental Affairs, Division of NATO, Brussels, Belgium