Global Cancer Risk From Unregulated Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons

Jamie M. Kelly, Peter D. Ivatt, Mathew J. Evans, Jesse H. Kroll, Amy I. H. Hrdina, Ishwar N. Kohale, Forest M. White, Bevin P. Engelward, Noelle E. Selin

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Abstract In assessments of cancer risk from atmospheric polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), scientists and regulators rarely consider the complex mixture of emitted compounds and degradation products, and they often represent the entire mixture using a single emitted compound—benzo[a]pyrene. Here, we show that benzo[a]pyrene is a poor indicator of PAH risk distribution and management: nearly 90 including unregulated degradation products of emitted PAHs. We develop and apply a global-scale atmospheric model and conduct health impact analyses to estimate human cancer risk from 16 PAHs and several of their N-PAH degradation products. We find that benzo[a]pyrene is a minor contributor to the total cancer risks of PAHs (11; the remaining risk comes from other directly emitted PAHs (72 and N-PAHs (17. We show that assessment and policy-making that relies solely on benzo[a]pyrene exposure provides misleading estimates of risk distribution, the importance of chemical processes, and the prospects for risk mitigation. We conclude that researchers and decision-makers should consider additional PAHs as well as degradation products.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021GH000401
Number of pages19
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 The Authors


  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • benzoapyrene
  • air pollution
  • human health
  • cancer
  • mixtures

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