Estimating individual-level exposure to airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons throughout the gestational period based on personal, indoor, and outdoor monitoring

Environ Health Perspect. 2008 Nov;116(11):1509-18. doi: 10.1289/ehp.10972. Epub 2008 Jul 16.


Objectives: Current understanding on health effects of long-term polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) exposure is limited by lack of data on time-varying nature of the pollutants at an individual level. In a cohort of pregnant women in Krakow, Poland, we examined the contribution of temporal, spatial, and behavioral factors to prenatal exposure to airborne PAHs within each trimester and developed a predictive model of PAH exposure over the entire gestational period.

Methods: We monitored nonsmoking pregnant women (n = 341) for their personal exposure to pyrene and eight carcinogenic PAHs-benz[a]anthracene, chrysene/isochrysene, benzo[b]fluoranthene, benzo[k]fluoranthene, benzo[a]pyrene [B(a)P], indeno[1,2,3-c,d]pyrene, dibenz[a,h]anthracene, and benzo[g,h,i]perylene-during their second trimester for a consecutive 48-hr period. In a subset (n = 78), we monitored indoor and outdoor levels simultaneously with the personal monitoring during the second trimester with an identical monitor. The subset of women was also monitored for personal exposure for a 48-hr period during each trimester. We repeatedly administered a questionnaire on health history, lifestyle, and home environment.

Results: The observed personal, indoor, and outdoor B(a)P levels we observed in Krakow far exceed the recommended Swedish guideline value for B(a)P of 0.1 ng/m(3). Based on simultaneously monitored levels, the outdoor PAH level alone accounts for 93% of total variability in personal exposure during the heating season. Living near the Krakow bus depot, a crossroad, and the city center and time spent outdoors or commuting were not associated with higher personal exposure. During the nonheating season only, a 1-hr increase in environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) exposure was associated with a 10-16% increase in personal exposure to the nine measured PAHs. A 1 degrees C decrease in ambient temperature was associated with a 3-5% increase in exposure to benz[a]anthracene, benzo[k]fluoranthene, and dibenz[a,h]anthracene, after accounting for the outdoor concentration. A random effects model demonstrated that mean personal exposure at a given gestational period depends on the season, residence location, and ETS.

Conclusion: Considering that most women reported spending < 3 hr/day outdoors, most women in the study were exposed to outdoor-originating PAHs within the indoor setting. Cross-sectional, longitudinal monitoring supplemented with questionnaire data allowed development of a gestation-length model of individual-level exposure with high precision and validity. These results are generalizable to other nonsmoking pregnant women in similar exposure settings and support reduction of exposure to protect the developing fetus.

Keywords: coal; long-term personal exposure; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; spatial and temporal variability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Air Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Polycyclic Compounds / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy


  • Air Pollutants
  • Polycyclic Compounds