P-D 2/9/2010: “Study: Indoor pollutant merges with tobacco residue”

The following report, just published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, focuses on the newest potential threat to non-smokers: “thirdhand smoke.”

I think there is some credence for the concern, although the primary focus must remain secondhand smoke.

Missouri GASP paid for independent nicotine monitor measurements to be done in a local Steak ‘n Shake before and after it went smoke-free in 2005. There was a rapid drop in nicotine vapor level after the restaurant went smoke-free, but interestingly, even two weeks later, it was still 15% of its level just prior to it going smoke-free.

This is attributed to the tobacco smoke tars which plate out on all the internal surfaces in the restaurant, including the air-conditioning ductwork. The long clearance time is exacerbated by modern AC systems which, for reasons of economy and energy efficiency, typically draw in no more than about 10% of makeup air from outdoors.

Study: Indoor pollutant merges with tobacco residue
By Suzanne Bohan

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. — A common indoor air chemical reacts with residues of tobacco smoke clinging to clothing, skin and surfaces to form potent carcinogens, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory reported in a study published Monday.

A few years ago, researchers began paying closer attention to the potential health effects of “thirdhand smoke,” which is a thin layer of toxic substances from tobacco smoke that settles on surfaces long after cigarettes have been extinguished.

The Berkeley scientists, however, are the first to find that nitrous acid, an indoor air pollutant created by gas appliances, vehicle engines and tobacco smoke, reacts with nicotine found on surfaces.

“We want to make people aware that there’s a potential hazard from thirdhand smoke that has not been recognized before,” said Lara Gundel, one of the authors of the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This is a new finding that a common pollutant can react with nicotine to form carcinogens right in our own homes,” said Gundel, who works in the lab’s Indoor Environment Department.

The term “thirdhand smoke” was coined in 2009 in a study in the journal Pediatrics, which found that 65 percent of nonsmokers thought that the residue of tobacco smoke found on furniture and drapes, in rugs and dust, and on skin and clothing, can harm children and infants. Only 43 percent of smokers believed that it posed a health risk.

That study focused on earlier research analyzing the potential harms to children and infants from ingesting or breathing any of the 250 toxic substances found in tobacco smoke, such as lead. Research also found many children had detectable blood levels of cotinine, a chemical formed by exposure to nicotine.

But the Berkeley lab researchers also found that when nitrous acid in the air reacts with nicotine, tobacco-specific nitrosamines, or TSNAs, are created.

Unburned tobacco and tobacco smoke already contain TSNAs, which in1989 the U.S. Surgeon General listed among the carcinogens found in tobacco.

What’s new is how many more of them are created when nicotine reacts with nitrous acid. After exposing surfaces to tobacco smoke, the Lawrence Berkeley lab researchers found levels of TSNAs increased 10 times after exposure to nitrous acid.

The health hazards of tobacco smoking and secondhand smoke are well known, with research associating inhalation of the smoke with elevated risk of cancer and heart disease.

This thirdhand smoke, however, enters the body via a different route, either through skin exposure, dust inhalation and ingestion, and it poses an “unappreciated health risk,” the Berkeley researchers wrote. Children and infants are of particular concern, since they have far more exposure to contaminated surfaces, and with their smaller sizes would absorb proportionately more TSNAs than adults.

But the human health effects of thirdhand smoke haven’t been well-studied, and further work is needed to understand the extent of the threat they pose, Gundel said.

David Sutton, a spokesman with the Altria Group, parent company of Philip Morris USA, noted that no human exposure measurements were done as part of the Berkeley study.

“The study authors recommended more research on the topic,” he said. Sutton said that Altria does discourage adults from smoking when children are present.

Still, smoking outside does not eliminate exposure to TSNAs, since nicotine from smoke adheres to clothing and skin, and can be carried back inside. Nor does opening windows or using a fan help much, since nicotine, a sticky molecule, readily clings to surfaces.

As a precaution, Gundel advised replacing furniture and drapes that have been heavily exposed to nicotine, and she supports 100 percent smoke-free public places. And smoking inside vehicles also leaves behind nicotine on surfaces, she noted.

The Berkeley researchers plan to continue their studies on thirdhand smoke, assessing how long TSNAs can remain on surfaces, and seeking reliable biomarkers for studying the uptake of them into the body.

The study was sponsored by the University of California’s Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program.

7 responses to “P-D 2/9/2010: “Study: Indoor pollutant merges with tobacco residue”

  1. This study appears to be wall to wall junk science. They seem to be most worried about “carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines or TSNAs..several hundred nanograms per square meter of nitrosamines” (1)

    Guess where Nitrosamines are also formed? Cooking fish, where TSNAs are measured in microgrammes, but in the Berkeley paper nanogrammes a factor of a thousand times smaller. (2)

    Nitrosamines are also found in ham, milk, children’s balloons and tap water. (3)

    Finally the World Health Organization’s cancer mouthpiece the International Agency Research on Cancer says on Nitrosamines: “5.2 Human carcinogenicity data. No data were (sic) available to the Working Group.” (4)

    So we have a dose that is so low, cooking a fish produces 1,000 times more “carcinogens” on a chemical which has not been proven to cause cancer in the first place.

    Junk science that insults the intelligence.


    Click to access 21-1629.pdf

    Click to access 2011.pdf

    Click to access mono89-7E.pdf

  2. Just a little bit more about the N’-nitrosonornicotine found in SHS/ETS.

    “Thus, non-smokers can be exposed to highly carcinogenic TSNA.”

    However, the dose makes the poison!!

    This stuff is NOT present in quantities known to be hazardous!!!

    The concentration of N’-nitrosonornicotine (NNN) ranged from not detected to 23 pg/l, that of N’-nitrosoanata-bine ranged from not detected to 9 pg/l, while 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK) was detected in concentrations ranging from 1 to 29 pg/l.

    NNN = 0 to 23 picograms per liter

    NNK = 0 to 29 picograms per liter

    1 cubic meter = 1,000 liters

    1 nanogram(NG) = 1,000 picograms

    Thus, NNN of 0 to 23 picograms per liter is the same as 0 to 23 nanograms(ng) per cubic meter

    NNK of 0 to 29 picograms per liter is the same as 0 to 29 nanograms(ng) per cubic meter.

    The question is whether or not 0 to 29 nanograms(ng) per cubic meter of a carcinogenic substance is a dangerous level?

    The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has concluded that inorganic arsenic is known to be a human carcinogen.

    The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) cites sufficient evidence of a relationship between exposure to arsenic and human cancer. The IARC classification of arsenic is Group 1.

    The EPA has determined that inorganic arsenic is a human carcinogen by the inhalation and oral routes, and has assigned it the cancer classification, Group A.

    http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprof…iles/tp2- c6.pdf
    6.4.1 Air

    Mean arsenic levels in ambient air in the United States have been reported to range from 20 to 30 ng/m3 in urban areas (Davidson et al. 1985; EPA 1982c; IARC 1980; NAS 1977a).

    NOTE: 20 to 30 ng/m3 is NOT stated to be a hazardous level of exposure to this known human carcinogen.

  3. N-nitrosomines is inorganic arsenic and this stuff is everywhere in the atmosphere,food and just about anyplace you can think of and its there naturally.

    Levels of arsenic in the air generally range from less than 1 to about 2,000 nanograms (1 nanogram equals a billionth of a gram) of arsenic per cubic meter of air (less than 1–2,000 ng/m3), depending on location, weather conditions, and the level of industrial activity in the area. However, urban areas generally have mean arsenic levels in air ranging from 20 to 30 ng/m3.

    Both inorganic and organic forms leave your body in your urine. Most of the inorganic arsenic will be gone within several days, although some will remain in your body for several months or even longer. If you are exposed to organic arsenic, most of it will leave your body within several days.

    Click to access tp2-c1.pdf

    The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
    has set a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 10 micrograms
    of arsenic per cubic meter of workplace air (10 μg/m³) for 8
    hour shifts and 40 hour work weeks.

    so thats 10,000 nanograms per cubic meter of air per 8 hours

    1 cig gives 29 nanograms per cubic meter

    so we take 10,000 divided by 29 = 186,000 cigs burning simultaneously to meet oshas pel of 10ugs per 8 hour shift in a 20x9x9 sealed room.

    cotton contains the same stuff from insecticide spraying,so your clothes and underwear will have this tnsa’s in it too!

  4. I totally agree with this report. I’ve personally seen how the nicotine from secondhand smoke sticks to my clothing and then when I go outiside to breathe clean air, I can still smell the toxic fumes in my clothes, ergo, thirdhand smoke.

    • But you won’t convince harleyrider 1978 (whoever that is) or any of the other secondhand smoke deniers of this. Or it will be dismissed as irrelevant.

  5. The new 3rd hand smoke study is just a psuedo-science as the shs/ets claims are…..the supposed smokefree scientists had to up and up the nitrous acid into a chamber beyond any actual levels ever to be encountered anywhere in order to even get their detection equipmnt to even pickup the slightest minute level of nnk/nitrosomines.


    The problem with blaming third-hand smoke for nitrosamine production is that the nicotine doesn’t create the nitrosamine.
    Nitrosamines are produced whenever atmospheric Nitrous Acid reacts with any material containing amines, hence the name
    nitros + amines.
    Amines are the building blocks for Proteins. The Nitrous Acid does not come from the smoke.


    Quote, ” When a cigarette burns, nicotine is released in the form of a vapor that collects and condenses on indoor surfaces such as walls, carpeting, drapes and furniture, where it can linger for months, said the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

    “Our study shows that when this residual nicotine reacts with ambient nitrous acid it forms carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines, or TSNAs,” said Hugo Destaillats, a corresponding author of the study.

    “TSNAs are among the most broadly acting and potent carcinogens present in unburned tobacco and tobacco smoke,” he said.”, Unquote.

    Please Note: The above quote states that
    “When a cigarette burns, nicotine is released in the form of a vapor…Our study shows that when this residual nicotine reacts with ambient nitrous acid it forms carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines, or TSNAs,”

    But then it says, ” “TSNAs are among the most broadly acting and potent carcinogens present in unburned tobacco…”

    So, how can you have residual nicotine from third-hand smoke being converted by the reactions of atmospheric Nitrous Acid to form nitosamines from unburnt tobacco?
    Simple. It’s the Nitrous Acid in the air from non-tobacco sources reacting with any source of amines that are producing the nitrosamines.


    Quote, ” Under acidic conditions the nitrite forms nitrous acid (HNO2), which is protonated and splits into the nitrosonium cation N≡O+ and water: H2NO2+ = H2O + NO+. The nitrosonium cation then reacts with an amine to produce nitrosamine.

    Nitrosamines are found in many foodstuffs, especially beer, fish, and fish byproducts, and also in meat and cheese products preserved with nitrite pickling salt. The U.S. government established limits on the amount of nitrites used in meat products in order to decrease cancer risk in the population.”

    The entire wikipedia article is worth a read. I would be curious to learn how much nitrosamine is produced from non-tobacco mulch, general garbage, or from non-tobacco leaves in the back yard or the forests as they decay. It looks like the antismokers are using tunnelvision to support their arguments while deliberately ignoring the other nitrosamines that I am guessing are all around us.

    • harleyrider1978: I note you post the same material in many places on the web. I have no problem with that but if you want to post on the mogasp blog in future you’ll need to keep them briefer and to the point. References are always a good idea if they’re reliable.
      But finally, I repeat this requirement: you MUST provide your real identity if you want to be considered in future. If accepted, I’m willing to allow your post with a pseudonym if you request it but I expect you to provide your full name in your original comment.

Leave a Reply to Horacio Prada Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s