Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
Toxic. Long-lasting. Produced through burning.
What are PAHs?
PAHs are natural and man-made chemicals created when materials like coal, oil, or trash are burned. Because they break down slowly, PAHs are used to make products like dyes, plastics, pesticides, and asphalt.
How do PAHs enter our environment?
Before modern regulations, large quantities of these chemicals were discharged into waterways, where they still remain in the sediment. Today, they are still released through wildfires, vehicle exhaust, and driveway asphalt, for example. Even lighting a cigarette or charring food on the grill produces these chemicals.
How are people exposed to PAHs?
Although there are laws that limit the presence of PAHs in workplaces and drinking water, there are still numerous ways you can be exposed to these chemicals. The most common is breathing in fumes. People can also be exposed by eating or touching products containing PAHs. Wading in a contaminated water body can result in PAHs being absorbed through the skin.
Can PAHs harm my health?
Scientific studies have shown that animals develop tumors, reproductive problems, skin damage, and immune system damage when exposed to high quantities of PAHs.