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Toxic Remains



According to several recent scientific reports, including an article posted on ScienceDaily.com, when nicotine residue combines with the common indoor pollutant nitrous acid, a benign product given off by unvented gas appliances, the result is deadly carcinogens known as nitrosamines, or TSNAs, that can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled.  Small children and toddlers who crawl on toxin-laden carpeting are particularly vulnerable to TSNAs, which “are among the most broadly acting and potent carcinogens present in unburned tobacco and tobacco smoke, “ says Hugo Destaillats, a chemist with the Indoor Environment Department of Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Entergy Technologies Division in Berkeley, California.  Co-author of a paper on third-hand smoke published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Destaillats emphasizes that “third-hand smoke represents an unappreciated health hazard through dermal exposure, dust inhalation and ingestion.”  Although the specific hazards of ingesting or absorbing TSNAs requires further study, in a 2010 article in BusinessWeek, Lara Gundel, also a co-author of the PNAS paper and a Berkeley Lab chemist, says that “people can be exposed to toxins in tobacco smoke in a way that’s never been recognized before.”


The PNAS paper suggests remedies for third-hand smoke that include “implementing 100 percent smoke-free environments in public places.”  An increasing number of communities that formerly had indoor designated smoking areas and nearby exterior smoking zones have recently become completely smoke free.  One example is the 28 story high-rise community on Chicago’s Gold Coast that voted to become 100 percent smoke free-the first community in Illinois to do so.  For communities such as this, Destaillats, Gundel and their co-authors advise replacing furniture , especially upholstered pieces, carpeting, drapes and wallboard to “significantly reduce exposure” to the toxic substances that remain on surfaces.  Several coats of low-VOC paint also can help cover the residue.  Lower risk and potentially better health for residents aren’t the only reasons that communities should consider going smoke free.  A December 2010 article in the Chicago Journal stated that “the resale value of individual units in smoke-free condominium buildings nationwide typically is higher than buildings that allow smoking.  Smoke-free policies also cut condominium associations’ maintenance costs by reducing cleaning and painting costs and lowering the risk of fire.”

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