Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) consist of compounds composed of carbon and hydrogen in the form of aromatic rings. The number of aromatic rings possessed by a polyaromatic hydrocarbon is correlated to its toxicity. For instance, PAH’s with 4 to 5 rings are more toxic than those with only 2 to 3 aromatic rings. This group of hydrocarbons are produced when substances that cause pollution, such as coal, oil, and gasoline, are burned. Limited exposure is advised when working in close proximity to PAH due to possible long term health effects.

The primary industries that encounter PAH include industrial sites, waste and recycling operations, iron and steel works, asphalt manufacturing, coal mining, and wildfire response services. Among these industries, firefighters are at significantly higher risk for developing cancer due to a consistent exposure to dangerous PAH levels. As a result of climate change, there have been notably more wildfires across the U.S. When a wildfire occurs, PAH’s are formed in the soil through black and white ash. The resulting soil then becomes highly toxic to human health. Inhaling the fumes during and after a wildfire can pose significant health risks. Skin melanoma and lung cancer are often found to be associated with firefighting as a result of PAH risk.

The current OSHA limit for PAH’s is 0.2mg of PAHs per cubic meter of air. The available methods for testing exposure in the work feild are very limited. Most tests involve testing body tissue or blood PAH levels. These tests do not provide indication on the source or extent of PAH exposure. Since polyaromatic hydrocarbons are grouped under a large number of different compounds, some tests only provide exposure insight into one PAH. This is not proven useful when a worker is exposed to one or more PAH. For example, halogenated PAHs pose elevated health concern to humans.

Among the group of halogenated PAHs both chlorinated PAHs and brominated PAHs should be monitored due to their very high toxicity. Therefore, being able to test for multiple PAH is crucial in maintaining a healthy level of exposure. An additional method includes placing polypropylene pads to multiple areas of the human body. This allows for proper testing of skin and air PAH exposure. However, this method lacks precision and does is not very user friendly.

In order to monitor for polyaromatic hydrocarbons, Nematic Technologies has created a wearable chemical monitor that is capable of detecting polyaromatic hydrocarbons. This device allows workers to monitor their PAH exposure through a mobile app that connects to the chemical monitor. Contact a member of our team today to find out more!