Air pollution combustion emissions: characterization of causative agents and mechanisms associated with cancer, reproductive, and cardiovascular effects

Mutat Res. 2007 Nov-Dec;636(1-3):95-133. doi: 10.1016/j.mrrev.2007.08.003. Epub 2007 Aug 17.


Combustion emissions account for over half of the fine particle (PM(2.5)) air pollution and most of the primary particulate organic matter. Human exposure to combustion emissions including the associated airborne fine particles and mutagenic and carcinogenic constituents (e.g., polycyclic aromatic compounds (PAC), nitro-PAC) have been studied in populations in Europe, America, Asia, and increasingly in third-world counties. Bioassay-directed fractionation studies of particulate organic air pollution have identified mutagenic and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), nitrated PAH, nitro-lactones, and lower molecular weight compounds from cooking. A number of these components are significant sources of human exposure to mutagenic and carcinogenic chemicals that may also cause oxidative and DNA damage that can lead to reproductive and cardiovascular effects. Chemical and physical tracers have been used to apportion outdoor and indoor and personal exposures to airborne particles between various combustion emissions and other sources. These sources include vehicles (e.g., diesel and gasoline vehicles), heating and power sources (e.g., including coal, oil, and biomass), indoor sources (e.g., cooking, heating, and tobacco smoke), as well as secondary organic aerosols and pollutants derived from long-range transport. Biomarkers of exposure, dose and susceptibility have been measured in populations exposed to air pollution combustion emissions. Biomarkers have included metabolic genotype, DNA adducts, PAH metabolites, and urinary mutagenic activity. A number of studies have shown a significant correlation of exposure to PM(2.5) with these biomarkers. In addition, stratification by genotype increased this correlation. New multivariate receptor models, recently used to determine the sources of ambient particles, are now being explored in the analysis of human exposure and biomarker data. Human studies of both short- and long-term exposures to combustion emissions and ambient fine particulate air pollution have been associated with measures of genetic damage. Long-term epidemiologic studies have reported an increased risk of all causes of mortality, cardiopulmonary mortality, and lung cancer mortality associated with increasing exposures to air pollution. Adverse reproductive effects (e.g., risk for low birth weight) have also recently been reported in Eastern Europe and North America. Although there is substantial evidence that PAH or substituted PAH may be causative agents in cancer and reproductive effects, an increasing number of studies investigating cardiopulmonary and cardiovascular effects are investigating these and other potential causative agents from air pollution combustion sources.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Air Pollutants / poisoning
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / chemically induced
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Incineration*
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Reproduction / drug effects
  • Vehicle Emissions / analysis*


  • Air Pollutants
  • Vehicle Emissions