Charcoal Grilling can be problematic for two reasons. First, both charcoal and wood burn “dirty,” producing not only hydrocarbons but also tiny soot particles that pollute the air and can aggravate heart and lung problems. Secondly, the grilling of meat can form two kinds of potentially carcinogenic compounds: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and hetero cyclic amines.
According to the American Cancer Society, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons form when fat from meat drips onto the charcoal. They then rise with the smoke and can get deposited on the food. They can also form directly on the food as it is charred. The hotter the temperature and the longer the meat cooks, the more hetero cyclic amines are formed.
hetero cyclic amines can also form on broiled and pan-fried beef, pork, foul and fish, not just on grilled meats. In fact, National Cancer Institute researchers have identified 17 different hetero cyclic amines that result from cooking “muscle meats” and that may pose human cancer risks. Studies have also shown increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic and breast cancers associated with high intakes of well done, fried or barbequed meats.
According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Air Quality, Texans who like to say that they “live and breathe barbecue” may be doing just that to the detriment of their health. A 2003 study by scientists from Rice University found that microscopic bits of polyunsaturated fatty acids released into the atmosphere from cooking meat on backyard barbecues were helping to pollute the air in Houston. The city at times registers air quality levels that rank it one of the more polluted U.S. urban areas, though emissions from barbecues are certainly dwarfed by those generated by motor vehicles and industry.
Both briquettes and lump charcoal create air pollution. Lump charcoal, made from charred wood to add flavor, also contributes to deforestation and adds to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Charcoal briquettes do have the benefit of being made partly from sawdust (a good use of waste wood), but popular brands may also contain coal dust, starch, sodium nitrate, limestone and borax.