Source apportionment of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the urban atmosphere: a comparison of three methods

Environ Sci Technol. 2003 May 1;37(9):1873-81. doi: 10.1021/es0206184.


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are ubiquitous pollutants in urban atmospheres. Several PAHs are known carcinogens or are the precursors to carcinogenic daughter compounds. Understanding the contributions of the various emission sources is critical to appropriately managing PAH levels in the environment. The sources of PAHs to ambient air in Baltimore, MD, were determined by using three source apportionment methods, principal component analysis with multiple linear regression, UNMIX, and positive matrix factorization. Determining the source apportionment through multiple techniques mitigates weaknesses in individual methods and strengthens the overlapping conclusions. Overall source contributions compare well among methods. Vehicles, both diesel and gasoline, contribute on average 16-26%, coal 28-36%, oil 15-23%, and wood/other having the greatest disparity of 23-35% of the total (gas- plus particle-phase) PAHs. Seasonal trends were found for both coal and oil. Coal was the dominate PAH source during the summer while oil dominated during the winter. Positive matrix factorization was the only method to segregate diesel from gasoline sources. These methods indicate the number and relative strength of PAH sources to the ambient urban atmosphere. As with all source apportionment techniques, these methods require the user to objectively interpret the resulting source profiles.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Baltimore
  • Coal
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Incineration
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / analysis*
  • Seasons
  • Vehicle Emissions / analysis*


  • Air Pollutants
  • Coal
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Vehicle Emissions