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Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) & Exposure Risks

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Published on Sep 25, 2014

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, commonly referred to as PAHs, are a group of chemicals that are formed during the incomplete burning of coal, oil and gas, garbage, or other organic substances like tobacco or charbroiled meat. PAHs are often found as a mixture containing two or more of these compounds.

Some PAHs are also manufactured. These pure PAHs usually exist as colorless, white or pale yellow-green solids. PAHs are found in coal tar, crude oil, creosote and roofing tar, and a few are also used in medicines or to make dyes, plastics and pesticides. These chemicals have been found in at least 600 of the 1,430 National Priorities List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

People can be exposed to PAHs by:
• Breathing air containing the chemicals in the workplace of coking, coal-tar, and asphalt production plants; smokehouses; and municipal trash incineration facilities.
• Breathing air containing PAHs from cigarette smoke, wood smoke, vehicle exhausts, asphalt roads or agricultural burn smoke.
• Coming in contact with air, water or soil near hazardous waste sites.
• Eating grilled or charred meats; contaminated cereals, flour, bread, vegetables, fruits, meats; and processed or pickled foods.
• Drinking contaminated water or milk.
• Nursing infants of mothers living near hazardous waste sites may be exposed to PAHs through their mother's milk.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that some PAHs may reasonably be expected to be carcinogens. Some people who have breathed or touched mixtures of PAHs and other chemicals for long periods of time have developed cancer. Some PAHs have caused cancer in laboratory animals when they breathed air containing them (lung cancer), ingested them in food (stomach cancer), or had them applied to their skin (skin cancer).

These are just a few things to know about PAHs, to learn more about this or other indoor air quality, environmental, health and safety issues, please visits the websites shown in the video.

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