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Higher cytotoxicity and genotoxicity of burning incense than cigarette

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Hazardous particulates and volatiles produced by incense burning accumulate in the indoor atmosphere, where they pose a health risk, entering the human body via the respiratory system. Yet, few studies have focused on the effects of the total particulate matter from incense burning on human health. Here, we evaluate the health risks associated with the total particulate matter generated from burning incense indoors for the first time. The total particulate matter and major chemical components of two types of incense smoke were characterized using an electrical low pressure impactor and gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry. Their genotoxicity and cytotoxicity were compared with mainstream tobacco smoke using in vitro assays. Our results show that both the particulate number and mass of incense smoke were dominated by ultrafine to fine particles. In addition, many aromatic, irritant, and toxic compounds were identified in the particulate fraction. In vitro assessments showed that the genotoxicity of the particulate matter from one particular incense sample was higher than the reference cigarette sample with the same dose. All particulate matter fractions from the incense investigated were found to possess greater cytotoxicity on Chinese hamster ovary cells than smoke from the reference cigarette. Collective assessment of these data will affect the evaluation of incense products and facilitate measures to reduce exposure to their smoke. Clearly, there needs to be greater awareness and management of the health risks associated with burning incense in indoor environments.

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Correspondence to R. Zhou.

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Zhou, R., An, Q., Pan, X.W. et al. Higher cytotoxicity and genotoxicity of burning incense than cigarette. Environ Chem Lett 13, 465–471 (2015).

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