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Global atmospheric change: Potential health effects of acid aerosol and oxidant gas mixtures

Abstract

Inhalation toxicology experiments in whole animals have demonstrated a remarkable lack of toxicity of sulfuric acid in the form of respirable aerosols, especially in rats and nonhuman primates. Thus, much of the current experimental emphasis has shifted to the evaluation of the potential health effects of acid aerosols as components of mixtures. Rats have been concurrently exposed to mixtures of ozone or nitrogen dioxide with respirable-sized aerosols of sulfuric acid, ammonium sulfate, or sodium chloride, or to each pollutant individually. Their responses to such exposures have been evaluated by various quantitative biochemical analysis of lung tissue or wash fluids ('lavage fluid') or by quantitative morphological methods ('morphometry'). Such studies have mainly been performed in the acute time frame due to the inherent limitations of the most sensitive assays available and have generally involved exposures for 1 to 9 days, depending on the assays used. Good correlations were found between the most sensitive biochemical indicators of lung damage (protein content of lung lavage fluid or whole lung tissue and lung collagen synthesis rate) and the exposure concentration of oxidant gas present alone or in mixtures with acidic aerosols showing interactive effects. Synergistic interaction between ozone and sulfuric acid aerosol was demonstrated to occur at environmentally relevant concentrations of both pollutants by several of the analytical methods used in this study. Such interactions were demonstrated at concentrations of ozone as low as 0.12 ppm and of sulfuric acid aerosol at concentrations as low as 5 to 20 μg/m3. The acidity of the aerosol is a necessary (and apparently a sufficient) condition for such a synergistic interaction between an oxidant gas and a respirable aerosol to occur. A hitherto unexpected synergistic interaction between nitrogen dioxide and sodium chloride aerosol was found during these studies; it is hypothesized that this was due to formation of their acidic (anhydride) reaction product, nitrosyl chloride, in the chambers during exposure to the mixture.

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