USGS - science for a changing world

Environmental Health - Toxic Substances



This page is no longer being maintained, and will eventually be phased out. The page will be archived and publicly available once it's phased out.

Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)/
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)

Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) - "PAHs often are byproducts of petroleum processing or combustion. Many of these compounds are highly carcinogenic at relatively low levels. Although they are relatively insoluble in water, their highly hazardous nature merits their positioning in potable waters and wastewaters." - Eaton and others, 2005

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) - "PAHs are a group of organic contaminants that form from the incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons, such as coal and gasoline. PAHs are an environmental concern because they are toxic to aquatic life and because several are suspected human carcinogens." - Van Metre and others, 1996

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) - "A compound built from two or more benzene rings. Sources of PAHs include fossil fuels and incomplete combustion of organic matter (in auto engines, incinerators, and even forest fires)." - National Research Council, 1994

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) - "PAH compounds are a generally hazardous class of organic compounds found in petroleum and emissions from fossil fuel utilization and conversion processes. PAHs are neutral, nonpolar organic molecules that comprise two or more benzene rings arranged in various configurations ... Members of this class of compounds have been identified as exhibiting toxic and hazardous properties, and for this reason the EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] has included 16 PAHs on its list of priority pollutants to monitored in water and wastes." - National Research Council, 1997

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) - "PAHs, in general, are ubiquitous environmental pollutants and are formed from both natural and anthropogenic sources. The latter are by far the major contributors. Natural sources include forest fires (Blumer and Youngblood, 1975), volcanic eruptions (Ilnitsky and others, 1977), and degradation of biological materials, which has led to the formation of these compounds in various sediments and fossil fuels (White and Lee, 1980). Major anthropogenic sources include the burning of coal refuse banks, coke production, automobiles, commercial incinerators, and wood gasifers." - Lesage and Jackson, 1992

Text in brackets ("[text]") are additions by the editor

USGS Information on PAHs

Other Information on PAHs


Blumer, M., and Youngblood, W.W., 1975, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in soils and recent sediments: Science, v. 188, p. 53.

Eaton, A.D., Clesceri, L.S., Rice, E.W., and Greenberg, A.E., 2005, Standard methods for the examination of water and wastewater: American Public Health Association, 1368 p. 

Ilnitsky, A.P., Mischenko, V.S., and Shabad, L.M., 1977, New data on volcanoes as natural sources of carcinogenic substances: Cancer Letters, v. 3, p. 227.

Lesage, S., and Jackson, R.E., 1992, Groundwater contamination and analysis at hazardous waste sites: Marcel Dekker, Inc., 552 p.

National Research Council, 1994, Alternatives for ground water cleanup: Washington, D.C., National Academies Press, 315 p.

National Research Council, 1997, Innovations in ground water and soil cleanup--From concept to commercialization: Washington, D.C., National Academies Press, 310 p.

Van Metre, P.C., Mahler, B.J., Scoggins, M., and Hamilton, P.A., 2006, Parking lot sealcoat--A major source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in urban and suburban environments: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2005-3147, 4 p.

White, C.M., and Lee, M.L., 1980, Identification and geochemical significance of some aromatic components of coal: Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, v. 44, p. 1825.


Disclaimer: The definitions on this page are provided for information purposes only, and do not indicate endorment by the U.S. Geological Survey.

USGS Home Water Climate Change Science Systems Ecosystems Energy and Minerals Environmental Health Hazards

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page Contact Information:
Page Last Modified: Tuesday, 04-Aug-2015 14:26:50 EDT