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Toxicol Ind Health. 1996 Nov-Dec;12(6):742-971.

ATSDR evaluation of health effects of chemicals. IV. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs): understanding a complex problem.

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Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. MGM4@ATSOD3.EM.CDC.GOV


Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a group of chemicals that are formed during the incomplete burning of coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage, or other organic substances, such as tobacco and charbroiled meat. There are more than 100 PAHs. PAHs generally occur as complex mixtures (for example, as part of products such as soot), not as single compounds. PAHs are found throughout the environment in the air, water, and soil. As part of its mandate, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) prepares toxicological profiles on hazardous chemicals, including PAHs (ATSDR, 1995), found at facilities on the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) National Priorities List (NPL) and which pose the most significant potential threat to human health, as determined by ATSDR and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These profiles include information on health effects of chemicals from different routes and durations of exposure, their potential for exposure, regulations and advisories, and the adequacy of the existing database. Assessing the health effects of PAHs is a major challenge because environmental exposures to these chemicals are usually to complex mixtures of PAHs with other chemicals. The biological consequences of human exposure to mixtures of PAHs depend on the toxicity, carcinogenic and noncarcinogenic, of the individual components of the mixture, the types of interactions among them, and confounding factors that are not thoroughly understood. Also identified are components of exposure and health effects research needed on PAHs that will allow estimation of realistic human health risks posed by exposures to PAHs. The exposure assessment component of research should focus on (1) development of reliable analytical methods for the determination of bioavailable PAHs following ingestion, (2) estimation of bioavailable PAHs from environmental media, particularly the determination of particle-bound PAHs, (3) data on ambient levels of PAHs metabolites in tissues/fluids of control populations, and (4) the need for a critical evaluation of current levels of PAHs found in environmental media including data from hazardous waste sites. The health effects component should focus on obtaining information on (1) the health effects of mixtures of PAHs particularly their noncarcinogenic effects in humans, and (2) their toxicokinetics. This report provides excerpts from the toxicological profile of PAHs (ATSDR, 1995) that contains more detailed information.

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