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Who is at Risk for Exposure to Dangerous PAHs?

What are Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons?

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are common environmental contaminants that are both human produced and come from natural sources. PAHs are chemicals that are naturally present in crude oil, coal and gasoline. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon sources include products made from fossil fuels, including tar, asphalt and creosote. Some coal-gasification sites also have high concentrations of PAHs because they are released in the process of removing gas from coal. Other PAHs are released when fossil fuels, garbage or other organic materials are burned. The less efficient the burning process, the more PAHs are given off. Natural polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon sources include forest fires and volcanoes.

The reason these PAHs are dangerous is because they are genotoxic, mutagenic and carcinogenic. This means that they damage or cause mutations to human DNA and they cause cancer. As a result these contaminants are the focus of much attention. Their remediation from contaminated soils and water sources is now a high priority everywhere. And significant research to create sustainable technologies that will treat and remediate PAHs in soil are at the forefront of cleanup efforts.

The Environmental Effects of PAHs

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons testing of air, soil and water is necessary because PAHs pollution is so widespread. These dangerous chemicals have low volatility and remain in the environment for months or even years because of their low solubility and persistent longevity in soil. PAHs contaminated soil is very dangerous and human sources such as leaking underground storage tanks, abandoned gas sites, and industrial sources are primary culprits.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons environmental effects include their toxic pollution of the soil, water and air. Once they enter the atmosphere the heavier PAHs (more than four rings) will most often adsorb to particulate matter, while lighter PAHs (less than four rings) stay in the air until precipitation washes them to the ground. Because PAHs have low water solubility, concentrations in water tend to be low. However, this leads to their accumulation in sediments and aquatic organisms. PAHs can be absorbed by plants and accumulate in the soil.
Once in animals and plants they can adhere to DNA and cause similar genetic mutations and damage to wildlife as they do to humans, including causing cancer.

What Are the Effects of PAHs on Human Health?

Through information gathered on absorption, distribution and elimination of PAHs in animal studies have pieced together some of PAHs health effects on humans. What we do know is that PAHs are absorbed in three main ways by humans; ingestion, inhalation and contact with the skin. We also know that once they enter the body, there are a few things that occur:

  • PAHs are metabolized in numerous organs and get excreted through bile and urine.
  • PAHS are stored in adipose tissue for a limited time.
  • PAHs also get excreted through breast milk.

Studies of the metabolic fate of PAHs in humans are ongoing but have so far yielded little data. However, their carcinogenic effects have been documented since the 18th century in medical observations of chimney sweeps, coal miners, gas workers and others. Many forms of cancer, including of the skin, lung, bladder, liver, and stomach were found in people with these professions at much higher rates than people in other professions.

For people long exposed to PAHs in the workplace, cancer is the greatest health fear. Besides cancer, other PAHs health effects include gastrointestinal, pulmonary, renal and dermatological problems. The metabolites and derivatives of PAHs can also become potent mutagens of human DNA causing damage and or mutations in human DNA.

Who Risks Exposure to PAHs?

Anyone who works or has worked for some time in one of the following professions has an increased risk of developing problems caused by PAHs toxicity. 

  • Aluminum workers
  • Asphalt workers
  • Coal-gas workers
  • Coke oven workers
  • Fishermen (coal tar on nets)
  • Machinists
  • Mechanics (auto and diesel engine)
  • Printers
  • Road (pavement) workers
  • Roofers
  • Steel foundry workers
  • Tire and rubber manufacturing workers
  • Workers exposed to creosote

However, because of high concentrations of PAHs left over in soils from old coal to gas conversion sites and other forms of fossil fuel production, anyone who regularly eats food grown in soil from these sites or eats fish or other animals that have toxic levels of PAHs from years of living in toxic environments has a higher risk of dangerous PAHs health effects.

Can Anyone Become Exposed to PAHs?

Not only can anyone become exposed to PAHs but everyone gets exposed to PAHs on a regular basis. The good news is that few people are exposed to toxic levels of PAHS and most of the time our bodies can process PAHs out of our systems quickly enough to limit exposure and damage. But, forest fire smoke, cigarette smoke and even car exhaust contains PAHs that we cannot completely eliminate from our lives. In addition many of the foods grown in our soils absorb PAHs from water and soil and carry them into our digestive tracts. Our main job is to limit our exposure as much as possible throughout our lifetimes and take precautions if we have a job that puts us into contact with PAHs on a daily basis.

What is PAHs Testing?

The U.S. government has established standards, through several regulatory agencies, to limit dangerous levels of contaminants in the environment and indoor workplaces. These regulations are in place to protect people from PAHs exposure. Standards relating to PAHs in the air in the workplace, levels of PAHs in drinking water and levels of PAHs in soil are all part of these regulatory efforts to keep people safe. And all of these regulations require environmental testing to comply with regulations.

If you are informed that your workplace, your water source (usually a well) or the soil on your land needs PAHs testing, you will immediately want to find the best environmental testing laboratory to help you comply with these regulations.


Here are a few reasons why you would want to choose Torrent Laboratory for your PAHs Air, Soil or Water Testing needs.

1. Torrent is capable of low level testing of PAHs in soil and water.

Torrent offers 8270 and 8270 SIM testing for Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) in soil and water. The 8270 test method has reporting limits that are generally around 0.5 ppbv, which in most cases is sufficient for soil and water monitoring. 

2. Torrent tests against all ESLs

It is common that your testing results must compare against Residential or Commercial environmental screening levels (ESLs). This means you can be required to test soil and water with a more sensitive method that reports the data at 0.005 ppbv level. Torrent meets these low-level reporting limits using the 8270 SIM technique.

3. Torrent us the environmental testing lab that has—and does—it all.

Serving California and Hawaii, Torrent Laboratory is the leading environmental testing lab for certified water, soil, and air testing and analysis.

Guided by the principles of Six Sigma, Kaizen and Lean Thinking, our full-service lab offers the fastest turnaround times in the industry, we are fully certified by CA ELAP, Department of Energy (DoE ELAP) and Department of Defense (DoD ELAP) and we are known for our unparalleled customer service.