Implications of Bioremediation of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon-Contaminated Soils for Human Health and Cancer Risk

Environ Sci Technol. 2017 Sep 5;51(17):9458-9468. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.7b02956. Epub 2017 Aug 24.


Bioremediation uses soil microorganisms to degrade polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) into less toxic compounds and can be performed in situ, without the need for expensive infrastructure or amendments. This review provides insights into the cancer risks associated with PAH-contaminated soils and places bioremediation outcomes in a context relevant to human health. We evaluated which bioremediation strategies were most effective for degrading PAHs and estimated the cancer risks associated with PAH-contaminated soils. Cancer risk was statistically reduced in 89% of treated soils following bioremediation, with a mean degradation of 44% across the B2 group PAHs. However, all 180 treated soils had postbioremediation cancer risk values that exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) health-based acceptable risk level (by at least a factor of 2), with 32% of treated soils exceeding recommended levels by greater than 2 orders of magnitude. Composting treatments were most effective at biodegrading PAHs in soils (70% average reduction compared with 28-53% for the other treatment types), which was likely due to the combined influence of the rich source of nutrients and microflora introduced with organic compost amendments. Ultimately, bioremediation strategies, in the studies reviewed, were unable to successfully remove carcinogenic PAHs from contaminated soils to concentrations below the target cancer risk levels recommended by the USEPA.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biodegradation, Environmental*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / metabolism*
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / toxicity
  • Risk Assessment
  • Soil
  • Soil Pollutants / metabolism*
  • Soil Pollutants / toxicity


  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Soil
  • Soil Pollutants