EXTREME environmental pollution such as that found in the highly industrialized Silesian region of Poland has been associated with increased risk of cancer and adverse reproductive outcomes1,2. Among the most prevalent carcinogenic and mutagenic air pollutants in Silesia are the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) which are largely produced by industrial and residential combustion of coal1. Molecular epidemiology aims to prevent disease by using biological markers to identify risks well before clinical onset to allow effective intervention3-7. Here, we use a battery of biological markers to measure molecular and genetic damage in peripheral blood samples from residents of Silesia and from persons living in a rural, less polluted area of Poland. The results show that their exposure to environmental pollution is associated with significant increases in carcinogen-DNA adducts (PAH-DNA and aromatic adducts), in sister chromatid exchange including high-frequency cells, and in chromosomal aberrations as well as a doubling in the frequency of ras oncogene overexpression. We found that aromatic adducts on DNA were significantly correlated with chromosomal mutation, providing us with a molecular link between environmental exposure and a genetic alteration relevant to cancer and reproductive risk.
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