Skin responsible for greater exposure to carcinogens in barbecue smoke than lungs

May 23, 2018, American Chemical Society
Skin responsible for greater exposure to carcinogens in barbecue smoke than lungs
Credit: American Chemical Society

With summer coming, it's only a matter of time before the smells and tastes of barbecued foods dominate the neighborhood. But there's a downside to grilling that can literally get under your skin. In a study appearing in Environmental Science & Technology, scientists report that skin is a more important pathway for uptake of cancer-causing compounds produced during barbecuing than inhalation. They also found that clothing cannot fully protect individuals from this exposure.

In the U.S., 70 percent of adults own a grill or a smoker, and more than half of them grill at least four times a month, according to the Barbecue Industry Association. But barbecuing produces large amounts of , or PAHs. These carcinogenic compounds can cause respiratory diseases and DNA mutations. Eating grilled foods is the most common source of PAHs arising from barbecuing. However, according to a previous study by Eddy Y. Zeng and colleagues, bystanders near barbecues were likely exposed to considerable amount of PAHs through exposure and inhalation, even if they didn't eat the grilled foods. Building on that study, the team sought to more precisely quantify skin uptake of PAHs from barbecue fumes and particles.

The researchers divided volunteers into groups at an outdoor barbecue to provide them with varying degrees of exposure to the food and the smoke. After analyzing urine samples from the volunteers, the researchers concluded that, as expected, diet accounted for the largest amount of PAH exposure. However, the skin was the second-highest exposure route, followed by inhalation. They say oils in barbecue fumes likely enhance skin uptake of PAHs. The team also found that while clothes may reduce skin exposure to PAHs over the short term, once clothing is saturated with smoke, the skin can take in considerable amounts of PAHs from them. They suggest washing clothes soon after leaving a grilling area to reduce .

Explore further: Battling flames increases firefighters' exposure to carcinogens

More information: Jia-Yong Lao et al. Importance of Dermal Absorption of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons Derived from Barbecue Fumes, Environmental Science & Technology (2018). DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.8b01689

Related Stories

Antibody against carcinogenic substance deciphered

July 13, 2017

Summertime is barbecue time. However, when fat reacts with glowing coal, a substance chemists call benzopyrene is created. It is a widespread environmental toxin that can cause cancer in humans. Since buildings were heated ...

Recommended for you

Materials chemists tap body heat to power 'smart garments'

January 22, 2019

Many wearable biosensors, data transmitters and similar tech advances for personalized health monitoring have now been "creatively miniaturized," says materials chemist Trisha Andrew at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, ...

New synthesis method for producing fluorinated piperidines

January 22, 2019

Synthetic molecules are essential for many products, including medicines, crop protection agents and special materials such as Teflon. These molecules have several components, which can be combined in a variety of ways, resulting ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (3) May 23, 2018
The food-Nazis strike again. I remember when yogurt was gonna kill you. If you go back, the list of food that was deemed 'poison' but is now either not so bad or even good for you is impressive.
1 / 5 (4) May 23, 2018
People have been cooking meat over fire for thousands of years.
Enjoy your barbeque.
5 / 5 (2) May 23, 2018
Cancer rates have been steadily rising for thousands of years. Plz BBQ more and end your life sooner. But seriously, people have done millions of retarded things for thousands of years because they didn't know any better. Why don't you go take a dump in your water supply, they did that for thousands of years too. Enjoy your poop water.
3.7 / 5 (3) May 24, 2018
@SciTechdude: Don't laugh. It won't be long before
our "personal discharges" will,actually, Be our water supply.
3 / 5 (2) May 24, 2018
@pntaylor: they already are.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.