Author: Wojciech Hanke (Specjalista epidemiolog w Instytut Medycyny Pracy w Łodzi)

Airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are widespread urban air pollutants from fossil fuel burning and other combustion sources. PAH pollutants have been determined to be highly toxic, mutagenic, carcinogenic, and teratogenic. This means that they can cause mutations in human bodies which may result in cancer and in the case of pregnant women birth defects.



People exposed to smoke from biomass combustion have elevated levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in urine and receive significant PAH exposure from biomass smoke. Analyzing the concentration of PAH metabolites in urine offers the possibility to measure the total exposure from different sources, both indoor and outdoor. 

Using this method, we can assess the effectiveness of different interventions focused on reducing exposure to PAHs. For example, reductions in urinary PAHs metabolites after the installation of improved woodstoves ranged from 19% to 52% in women participating in woodstove intervention programs in the Santiago de Chuco Province in Peru (Li Z et al., 2011), and from 20% to 42% in women participating in a similar program in the state of Michoacan in Mexico (Riojas-Rodriguez et al., 2011).