Genotoxic and mutagenic activity of environmental air samples in Flanders, Belgium

V. A. Du Four, N. Van Larebeke, C. R. Janssen

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37 Citations (Scopus)


Atmospheric pollution is assumed to play a role in the incidence of respiratory diseases and cancers. Airborne particles are able to penetrate deep into the lung and are composed of complex chemical mixtures, including mutagens and carcinogens such as polycyclic aromatic compounds (PACs). The present study reports mutagenic and genotoxic activities associated with ambient air collected near a busy street in Borgerhout, at an industrial site in Hoboken and in Peer, a rural community 70km east of Antwerp in Flanders, Belgium. Airborne particulates (PM10) and semi-volatile organic compounds were sampled during winter and summer. Samples were collected with a high-volume sampler using quartz filters (QF) and polyurethane foam (PUF) cartridges. The mutagenic and genotoxic activity of the organic extracts was determined using the Salmonella test/standard plate-incorporation assay and the Vitotox® assay. Concentrations of 16 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the extracts were determined by reversed-phase high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). The mutagenicity assay, using Salmonella typhimurium strain TA98, demonstrated direct mutagenicity of up to 58revertants/m3 for the QF extracts and low or no mutagenic activity in the PUF extracts. Metabolic activation of the samples resulted in high indirect mutagenicity for both QF and PUF extracts: up to 96revertants/m3 were found in QF samples and 62revertants/m 3 in PUF samples. Genotoxic effects of the filter extracts were assessed with the Vitotox® assay: some direct genotoxic effects were noted, i.e. without metabolic activation, but almost no effects were observed after metabolic activation. Without activation, most PUF extracts were bacteriotoxic. With metabolic activation this toxicity disappeared, but genotoxic effects were not observed. Statistical analysis showed that the observed biological effects correlated well with the PAH concentrations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-167
Number of pages13
JournalMutation Research - Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2004


  • Airborne particles (PM10)
  • Genotoxicity
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Salmonella mutagenicity assay
  • Vitotox® assay


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