Breathe easy, unless you regularly inhale the smoke of forest fires or have a leaky wood-burning stove, the pollutant doesn't seem to be a first world problem. Isocyanic acid enters the atmosphere when biomass, such as wood, grass and other plant material, is burned and could be a serious health risk to people who cook over biomass fires every day. Billions of the global 99 percent use insufficiently vented cooking and heating stoves, which could be exposing whole families to the chemical.
Cigarette smokers also are exposed to extremely high levels of isocyanic acid, which adds one more chemical to the cancer stick's mix.
Exposure to isocyanic acid is associated with cataracts, as well as tissue inflammation linked to both cardiovascular disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
The chemical is hard to measure in the atmosphere. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had to build a special to device to detect it. Last year, a NOAA study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was the first to find isocyanic acid in the atmosphere.