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A considerable amount of knowledge regarding what causes cancer has accumulated during the past several decades.  Cancer Biology has established the basic facts of the process, carcinogenesis, whereby a normal cell becomes a cancer cell.  It has also come to be known that a considerable number of chemical substances are human carcinogens.   


Chemical carcinogens cause cancer by damaging the DNA of chromosomes.  Damage occurs at the molecular level.  One molecule of carcinogen attaches to the DNA molecule causing one increment of chromosomal damage, referred to as a lesion.  Increased numbers of carcinogen molecules in the body increases the amount of damage done to the DNA.  This means that reducing the amount of carcinogen one is exposed to reduces cancer risk.  Genes are the basic functional units of chromosomes.  Proteins that control all of the body’s biochemical processes are produced using the genes for building instructions.  When the gene that codes for the production of the protein that controls cell division is damaged by carcinogens the cell can no longer produce a viable protein product and as a result, control of cell division is lost.  (Gene damage sufficient to cause such loss of control is the result of several lesions.)  The cell possessing a division control gene damaged to this extent is a potential cancer cell.   


The above information provides a foundation for cancer prevention education that can significantly reduce cancer risk.  Reducing exposure to carcinogens decreases cancer risk.  It is reasonable to focus efforts to reduce exposure on those chemical carcinogens that are imposing a large amount of exposure.  The exhaust released by combustion of gasoline and diesel fuel contains several human carcinogens, including:  benzene, formaldehyde, diesel exhaust particulates, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).  Combustion of gasoline and diesel fuel is a major source of PAHs.  Respiratory exposure to exhaust PAHs and consumption of foods contaminated with PAHs (that originated to a large extent in exhaust) are the predominant routes of exposure.  The Long Island Breast Cancer Study reported an association between PAH adducts and elevated breast cancer risk.


Exposure is a matter of intake, bringing pollutant carcinogen molecules into the body.  People are exposed to exhaust carcinogens when they breathe air that is contaminated by exhaust from the many machines that burn gasoline or diesel fuel:  chain saws, lawn mowers, generators, snowmobiles, ATVs, cars, trucks, and heavy equipment.  Nearly everyone is exposed to exhaust carcinogens.  We are constantly exposed to exhaust carcinogens when we breathe the air of the place where we live, which contains background levels of these pollutants as a result of their release into the general atmosphere.  There are higher levels of these pollutants in the air where greater amounts of fuel are being combusted.  Breathing in the exhaust cloud of a nearby running gasoline or diesel engine imposes the intake of additional quantities of the carcinogens.  Clearly, people who regularly breathe in exhaust clouds receive higher exposures to exhaust carcinogens than people living in the same area but not having close contact with exhaust clouds.  Breathing exhaust for increasing periods of time increases carcinogen exposure.  


In rural areas there are not the large numbers of cars and trucks that cause the heavy exhaust pollution found in cities and urban areas like Long Island .  However, rural residents operate many machines that produce exhaust.  They are frequently exposed to the concentrated exhaust clouds of those machines.  City dwellers breathe air that is contaminated with higher background levels of exhaust carcinogens than the air of rural areas. 


People can reduce their cancer risk by making reasonable efforts to avoid exhaust exposure and by preventing exhaust pollution.  Exhaust exposure can be avoided by decreasing the amount of time that is spent where machines are running.  People should not exercise along busy streets or highways. You can reduce exhaust exposure by closing your car windows while driving in moderate and heavy traffic


Preventing exhaust pollution decreases the quantity of exhaust that is in the air we breathe.  This reduces our exhaust exposure.  Exhaust pollution can be prevented by reducing idling.  Another means of reducing exhaust pollution is the use of high fuel efficiency engines.  Car-pooling reduces exhaust pollution.  Driving less prevents exhaust pollution.  Construction of bypasses around urban areas eliminates repeated stops and starts that pollute more than continuous operation at highway speeds.  Use of bio-diesel fuel prevents exhaust pollution.  Switching energy sources to non-combustion technologies such as hydrogen will provide the ultimate in exhaust pollution prevention.  


Cancer Action NY teaches workshops on pollution prevention.  Director, Donald L. Hassig, can be contacted by email to arrange for a workshop presentation:  canceractionny@yahoo.com.   

Further information:  Donald L. Hassig, Director, Cancer Action NY, P O Box 340 , Colton , NY 13625 ; www.canceractionny.org   



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