Emissions of PAHs derived from sugarcane burning and processing in Chiapas and Morelos México

Sci Total Environ. 2015 Sep 15;527-528:474-82. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.04.089. Epub 2015 May 14.


Sugarcane burning is an agricultural practice implemented to ease farm worker duties; nevertheless, as a consequence, tons of particles are emitted to the atmosphere. Additionally, during harvesting the sugar-mills operate the whole day emitting hundreds of tons of pollutants. Therefore, health risks to neighboring population should be a major governmental concern, leading first to identification and quantification of toxic compounds, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). In order to establish the magnitude of the problem, four sampling campaigns of PM10 and PM2.5 were carried out in this study, during harvesting and no-harvesting seasons in two municipalities of México, with different climatic and social conditions. Concentrations of PM10, PM2.5, and organic compounds were determined daily, followed by extraction, identification and quantification of the 17 EPA-established PAHs from all samples. The results showed that during harvest, the PM10 mass increased lightly in Chiapas, but approximately twice in Morelos, whereas total PAH concentrations increased twice and six times, respectively. The most abundant PAHs, namely: indene [1,2,3cd] pyrene, benzo[b]fluoranthene, benzo[a]pyrene and dibenzo [a,h] anthracene are composed of 5 or more aromatic rings. Of the total PAHs quantified, 44% to 52% corresponded to carcinogenic compounds, consequently, the overall carcinogenic potential increased twice or three times. Principal component analysis with varimax rotation was applied to source apportionment at each site, suggesting three different sources during harvesting: the combustion process in the sugar mill, sugarcane burning and vehicular emissions. The combustion markers for sugar mill are, BAA, BBF, BKF, BAP, IND and BGP, whereas for sugarcane burning were ANT, PHE, FLT and PYR. The results obtained indicate that processing and burning sugarcane are the main sources of the PAH levels measured, proving that the health risks are boosted during harvesting due to increases of PM and PAHs.

Keywords: Carcinogenic potential; Chiapas; Morelos; México; PAHs; Sugar mill; Sugarcane burning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Incineration
  • Mexico
  • Particulate Matter / analysis*
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / analysis*
  • Saccharum*


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons