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Produced by the OSU Superfund Research Program - (opens in a new window) Available on YouTube
(7 minutes 27 seconds long)
This table shows 18 PAHs that have been deemed 'priority' PAHs. While there are limited regulations for some of these PAHs, they do not apply to the general public or to outdoor air. The table below shows existing information about where these PAHs are found, and any known health effects. While these PAHs may be present in our environment, these does not necessarily mean you will experience poor health effects.
|Potential Sources of the PAH|
|PAH||Cigarettes/ e-cigarettes||Diesel fuels||Grilled/charred food||Petroleum products, coal tar, coal burning||Wildfire/ agricultural smoke||Health Concern(s)|
|acenaphthylene||☑||☑||☑||☑||☑||No information available|
|anthracene||☑||☑||☑||☑||☑||No information available|
|benzo[e]pyrene||☑||☐||☐||☑||☑||No information available|
|benzo[ghi]perylene||☑||☐||☑||☑||☑||No information available|
|chrysene||☑||☑||☑||☑||☑||No information available|
What are PAHs?
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a class of more than 100 chemicals composed of up to six benzene rings fused together such that any two adjacent benzene rings share two carbon bonds.
Why is a research focus on PAH mixtures so important?
Hundreds of PAHs are present in environmental mixtures. PAHs account for 4 of the top 10 most hazardous substances on the 2011 ATSDR Priority List of Hazardous Substances. Although many studies employed single PAHs, humans are exposed to complex mixtures.
Where do PAHs come from?
Three classes of PAHs in the environment:
1. Biogenic (minor)
Generated by high temperature combustion of organic matter
What happens to PAHs in the environment?
What is the connection between PAHs and human health?
PAHs are a human health concern. A number of studies show increased incidence of cancer (lung, skin, and urinary cancers) in humans exposed to PAH mixtures.
Many individual PAH compounds have been classified as probable or possible carcinogens by entities such as the National Toxicology Program and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Health effects of PAHs
The effects on human health will depend mainly on the extent of exposure (length of time, etc), the amount one is exposed to (or concentration), the innate toxicity of the PAHs and whether exposure occurs via inhalation, ingestion or skin contact. A variety of other factors can also affect health impacts from such exposure, including pre-existing health status and age.
The ability of PAHs to induce short-term health effects in humans is not clear. Occupational exposures to high levels of pollutant mixtures containing PAHs has resulted in symptoms such as eye irritation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and confusion. However, it is not known which of the mixture components were causing these effects. Mixtures of PAHs are known to cause skin effects in animals and humans such as irritation and inflammation. Anthracene, benzo(a)pyrene and naphthalene are direct skin irritants while anthracene and benzo(a)pyrene are reported to be skin sensitizers, i.e. cause an allergic skin response in animals and humans.
Seventeen individual PAHs get more attention because of possibility of exposure and harmful health affects. These 17 PAHs are:
How might I be exposed to PAHs?
What can I do to minimize my exposure to PAHs?
Since PAHs are found throughout the environment, it is difficult to avoid exposure. However, you can significantly reduce exposure by avoiding certain areas and by modifying some home and recreational activities. The following are practical and easy steps you can follow to reduce PAH exposure.
Note: Workers involved at the oil spill cleanup sites are covered by OSHA's Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response standard (1910.120 and 1926.65). This standard requires that workers be provided protective equipment and special training by specially trained personnel who have received extensive training.
More PAH Resources