Coal from mass extinction era linked to lung cancer mystery

Jan 06, 2010
Coal from China's Xuan Wei County, widely used for cooking and heating, may contribute to unusually high rates of lung cancer among women in the region. Credit: US Department of Energy

The volcanic eruptions thought responsible for Earth's largest mass extinction — which killed more than 70 percent of plants and animals 250 million years ago — is still taking lives today. That's the conclusion of a new study showing, for the first time, that the high silica content of coal in one region of China may be interacting with volatile substances in the coal to cause unusually high rates of lung cancer. The study, which helps solve this cancer mystery, appears in ACS' Environmental Science & Technology.

David Large and colleagues note that parts of China's Xuan Wei County in Yunnan Province have the world's highest incidence of in nonsmoking women — 20 times higher than the rest of .

Women in the region heat their homes and cook on open coal-burning stoves that are not vented to the outside. Scientists believe that indoor emissions from burning cause cancer, but are unclear why the lung cancer rates in this region are so much higher than other areas. Earlier studies show a strong link between certain volatile substances, called PAHs, in coal smoke and lung cancer in the region.

The scientists found that coal used in parts of Xuan Wei County had about 10 times more silica, a suspected carcinogen, than U.S. coal. Silica may work in conjunction with PAHs to make the coal more carcinogenic, they indicate. The scientists also found that this high-silica coal was formed 250 million years ago, at a time when massive volcanic eruptions worked to deposit silica in the peat that formed Xuan Wei's coal.

Explore further: Dutch unveil big plan to fight rising tides

More information: "Silica-Volatile Interaction and the Geological Cause of the Xuan Wei Lung Cancer Epidemic", pubs.acs.org/stoken/presspac/p… ll/10.1021/es902033j

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

European power plants boosting coal use

Apr 24, 2008

High oil and natural gas prices, coupled with increased demand, are driving Europe's return to coal-fired power plants, an industry official says.

Pennsylvania to issue new mercury limits

Feb 22, 2006

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection reportedly plans to order a substantial cut in toxic mercury emissions from coal-burning plants.

Study: Size of U.S. coal reserves in doubt

Jun 21, 2007

U.S. scientists are calling for increased federal support to obtain a more accurate assessment of the extent and location of the nation's coal reserves.

Recommended for you

Dutch unveil big plan to fight rising tides

5 hours ago

The Netherlands on Tuesday unveiled a multi-billion-euro, multi-decade plan to counter the biggest environmental threat to the low-lying European nation: surging seawater caused by global climate change.

Drought hits Brazil coffee harvest

7 hours ago

Coffee output in Brazil, the world's chief exporter, will slide this year after the worst drought in decades, agricultural agency Conab said Tuesday.

Landmark fracking study finds no water pollution

9 hours ago

The final report from a landmark federal study on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has found no evidence that chemicals or brine water from the gas drilling process moved upward to contaminate drinking water at one site ...

Politics divide coastal residents' views of environment

10 hours ago

From the salmon-rich waters of Southeast Alaska to the white sand beaches of Florida's Gulf Coast to Downeast Maine's lobster, lumber and tourist towns, coastal residents around the U.S. share a common characteristic: ...

User comments : 0