Estimated reduction in cancer risk due to PAH exposures if source control measures during the 2008 Beijing Olympics were sustained

Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Jun;119(6):815-20. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1003100.


Background: The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games provided a unique case study to investigate the effect of source control measures on the reduction in air pollution, and associated inhalation cancer risk, in a Chinese megacity.

Objectives: We measured 17 carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and estimated the lifetime excess inhalation cancer risk during different periods of the Beijing Olympic Games, to assess the effectiveness of source control measures in reducing PAH-induced inhalation cancer risks.

Methods: PAH concentrations were measured in samples of particulate matter ≤ 2.5 μm in aerodynamic diameter (PM2.5) collected during the Beijing Olympic Games, and the associated inhalation cancer risks were estimated using a point-estimate approach based on relative potency factors.

Results: We estimated the number of lifetime excess cancer cases due to exposure to the 17 carcinogenic PAHs [12 priority pollutant PAHs and five high-molecular-weight (302 Da) PAHs (MW 302 PAHs)] to range from 6.5 to 518 per million people for the source control period concentrations and from 12.2 to 964 per million people for the nonsource control period concentrations.This would correspond to a 46% reduction in estimated inhalation cancer risk due to source control measures, if these measures were sustained over time. Benzo[b]fluoranthene, dibenz[a,h]anthracene, benzo[a]pyrene, and dibenzo[a,l]pyrene were the most carcinogenic PAH species evaluated. Total excess inhalation cancer risk would be underestimated by 23% if we did not include the five MW 302 PAHs in the risk calculation.

Conclusions: Source control measures, such as those imposed during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, can significantly reduce the inhalation cancer risk associated with PAH exposure in Chinese megacities similar to Beijing. MW 302 PAHs are a significant contributor to the estimated overall inhalation cancer risk.

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

  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Air Pollution / prevention & control*
  • China / epidemiology
  • Inhalation Exposure / analysis*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Particulate Matter / analysis*
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / analysis*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sports
  • Time Factors


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons