Benzo[a]pyrene in wood smoke

Discussion on health consequences of air particulates

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Benzo[a]pyrene in wood smoke

Postby Wilberforce » Fri Aug 20, 2010 7:26 pm


Revised: 10/2009
Page 1 of 2
Benzo(a)pyrene is part of a class of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). PAHs usually
occur as complex mixtures, not as single compounds. Benzo(a)pyrene is on the priority pollutant list published
by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Where can benzo(a)pyrene be found and how is it used?
Benzo(a)pyrene is found in nature from the eruption of volcanoes and forest fires. Yet this chemical
compound is also man-made. Benzo(a)pyrene can be found in surface water, tap water, rainwater,
groundwater, wastewater and sewage sludge. Man-made releases of benzo(a)pyrene are to the air, where
sunlight turns the chemical into a dry form that falls to the ground and breaks down in the soil. This chemical
results from burning plants, wood, coal, and operating cars, trucks and other vehicles. The major indoor
sources of benzo(a)pyrene in the air are wood-burning fireplaces and stoves, and tobacco smoking.
There is
no known industry production or use of benzo(a)pyrene.
How can people be exposed to benzo(a)pyrene?
You could be exposed to benzo(a)pyrene through:
Breathing air containing benzo(a)pyrene in the workplace. This can occur if you work in coking, coal-tar and
asphalt production plants, or in smokehouses or where local trash is burned. You can also breathe
benzo(a)pyrene from cigarette smoke, wood smoke, vehicle exhaust, asphalt roads or smoke from burning
farm plants.

Contact with benzo(a)pyrene in the air, water, or soil near a waste site, or another polluted site.
Eating grilled or charred meats. You can also be exposed through contaminated cereals, flour, bread,
vegetables, fruits, meats; and processed or pickled foods.
Drinking contaminated water or cow’s milk. Nursing infants may be exposed through breast milk, especially if
the mother lives near a waste site containing benzo(a)pyrene.
How does benzo(a)pyrene work and how can it affect my health?
Short-term health effects can be a skin rash or eye irritation with redness and/or a burning sensation.
Exposure to sunlight and the chemical together can increase these effects.
Long-term health effects can be deadly. Benzo[a]pyrene is a probable cancer-causing agent in humans.
There is some evidence that it causes skin, lung, and bladder cancer in humans and in animals. If
benzo(a)pyrene is on your skin when you are being exposed to sunlight or ultraviolet light, the risk of skin
cancer is greater. Exposure to coal tar and pitch increases the likelihood of cancer. Repeated exposure to
substances containing benzo[a]pyrene may cause the skin to thicken and darken, and for pimples to appear.
Long-term skin changes include both loss of color and reddish areas, thinning of the skin and warts. Bronchitis
may result from repeated exposure to mixtures containing benzo(a)pyrene.
How is benzo(a)pyrene poisoning treated?
There is no treatment for benzo(a)pyrene. A doctor will treat the symptoms. In all cases of poisoning, medical
treatment should be sought and a doctor may prescribe a different treatment depending on circumstances of
the poisoning and the symptoms.
24/7 Emergency Contact Number: 1-888-295-5156
Revised: 10/2009

Page 2 of 2
What should I do if exposed to benzo(a)pyrene?
Anyone who may have been exposed to high levels of benzo(a)pyrene should be removed from the source of
exposure immediately. Clothing in contact with benzo(a)pyrene should be removed and discarded. Skin and
eyes exposed to benzo(a)pyrene should be flushed with clean water for at least 15 minutes. Seek medical
attention immediately.
What factors limit use or exposure to benzo(a)pyrene?
Workers should use benzo(a)pyrene in a regulated, enclosed area with local exhaust ventilation. If venting is
unavailable, workers should wear respirators. All workers should wear protective work clothing. The area
should be marked as a site where benzo(a)pyrene is handled, used, stored or formed. Hazard and warning
information should be posted. In the case of a chemical release, workers should wash thoroughly immediately
after exposure and at the end of the work shift. Communicate all health and safety information to potentially
exposed workers before releases occur.
Is there a medical test to show whether I’ve been exposed to benzo(a)pyrene?
There are tests that can show PAHs in body tissues or blood. These tests cannot show how much a person
was exposed to or how the exposure occurred. They also cannot tell if there will be harmful effects.
Technical information for benzo(a)pyrene
CAS Number: 50-32-8
Chemical Formula: C20H12
Carcinogenicity (EPA): B2 – Probable human carcinogen.
MCL (Drinking Water): 0.0002 mg/L
OSHA Standards: Regulates exposure limits to benzo[a]pyrene indirectly as “Coal Tar Pitch volatiles.” The
legal airborne permissible exposure limit (PEL) is 0.2 mg/m3
averaged over an 8-hour work shift.
NIOSH Standards: Indirectly as coal tar products. The exposure limit is 0.1 mg/m = for a 10-hour workday,
within a 40-hour workweek.
References and Sources
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 1995. Toxicological Profile for polycyclic
aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
ATSDR Fact Sheet on Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, on-line version,, May, 2006 (accessed 9/25/09)
U.S. EPA Drinking Water Standards and Health Advisories, 2004 Edition, on-line version, ... ndards.pdf (accessed 9/25/09)
Doc. # 35-05-20/09/10/3A

source ... enefaq.pdf
• The Surgeon General has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to ambient smoke!

• If you smell even a subtle odor of smoke, you are being exposed to poisonous and carcinogenic chemical compounds!

• Even a brief exposure to smoke raises blood pressure, (no matter what your state of health) and can cause blood clotting, stroke, or heart attack in vulnerable people. Even children experience elevated blood pressure when exposed to smoke!

• Since smoke drastically weakens the lungs' immune system, avoiding smoke is one of the best ways to prevent colds, flu, bronchitis, or risk of an even more serious respiratory illness, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis! Does your child have the flu? Chances are they have been exposed to ambient smoke!
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