Exhaust rises from the main chimneys of a coal-fired power plant.
Exhaust rises from the main chimneys of a coal-fired power plant. - 
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Bob Moon: Smoking causes lung cancer -- we know that. But about 15 percent of those diagnosed with the disease are non-smokers. Sure, some may be hiding their habit. But chemists have discovered there may be another reason people get lung cancer -- from a newly discovered type of air pollution. Janet Babin reports from the Marketplace Innovations Desk at North Carolina Public Radio.

Janet Babin: Scientists have identified a new group of air pollutants. And they're nasty -- inhaling them can expose a person to up to 300 times more pollutants than smoking just one cigarette.

Where do they come from? The combustion process -- you know, burning fuel. In cars, power plants or fireplaces. Other free radicals from combustion can be easily avoided -- they disperse in the atmosphere. These new ones though stick around indefinitely.

Chemistry professor Barry Dellinger at Louisiana State University led the research. He says cleaning them up might avoid a big problem for businesses that could be held liable for adverse health effects. Dellinger says just make power plants, for instance, more compact.

Barry Dellinger: You don't have all this ducting running around all over the place to get from one unit to another. You're just gonna shorten that up -- you just shorten it up so that the gasses go out and cool in the atmosphere as quick as they can.

Dellinger is calling for more research on these so called persistent free radicals.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.