Following the report of the presence of nitrosamine-like substances in samples of homemade spirit from Zambia, which had been obtained from an area where cancer of the oesophagus is common, samples of distilled alcoholic drinks were collected throughout western Kenya and southern Uganda from areas where the frequency of cancer of the oesophagus varies from very common to very rare. The 44 samples of spirit were screened by polarography and substances giving a similar response to nitrosamines were indicated at levels as high as 21 ppm. Subsequent analysis by gas chromatography for selected individual nitrosamines showed no evidence for the occurrence of methylethylnitrosamine (MEN), diethylnitrosamine (DEN), dipropylnitrosamine (DPN), ethylbutylnitrosamine (EBN), dibutylnitrosamine (DBN), nor of N nitrosopiperidine (N Pipn), but traces of compounds having a similar retention time as dimethylnitrosamine (DMN) were observed. However, subsequent examination by mass spectrometry showed no evidence of dimethylnitrosamine. There was no apparent association between the levels of unknown constituents indicated by polarography and gas chromatography, nor between either of these levels and the frequency of cancer of the oesophagus. The results by gas chromatography and mass spectrometry confirm that polarography is too unspecific to be a useful indicator of nitrosamines.
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