Characteristics, Sources and Health Risk Assessment of Airborne Particulate PAHs in Chinese Cities: A Review

Environ Pollut. 2019 May;248:804-814. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2019.02.068. Epub 2019 Feb 27.


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are organic compounds composed of at least two benzene rings. This paper reviews the characteristics, sources and health risk of airborne particulate PAHs in Chinese cities. The airborne particulate PAH concentrations varied from 3.35 to 910 ng m-3, with an average of 75.0 ng m-3, and the pollution level of PAHs in northern cities was generally higher than that in southern cities. The PAH concentrations in different cities underwent similar seasonal variations, with high concentrations in the winter and relatively low concentrations in the summer. Many factors, such as meteorological conditions and source emissions, influenced the spatiotemporal pattern of PAHs. High temperatures, frequent flow exchanges, abundant rainfall and strong solar radiation reduced the level of particulate PAHs in the atmosphere. The historical changes in the level of airborne particulate PAHs in four cities were analyzed. The PAH concentrations in Beijing and Taiyuan presented a trend of first increasing and then decreasing, while the level of particulate PAHs in Nanjing and Guangzhou had a decreasing tendency from year 2000-2015. The airborne particulate PAHs in cities were derived from several sources, including coal combustion, vehicle emissions, coking industries, biomass burning and petroleum volatilization. The results of a health risk assessment indicated that the incremental lifetime cancer risk (ILCR) for people in the northern cities was higher than that for people in the other regions, especially during the cold season. Moreover, adults were at greater risk than people in other age groups, and the health risk to females was slightly higher than that to males. The potential risk of airborne particulate PAH exposure was relatively high in some cities, and controlling PAH emissions at the source should be required to prevent pollution.

Keywords: Atmosphere; Characteristics; Particulate phase; Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; Risk.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • China
  • Cities
  • Coal / analysis
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Humans
  • Industry
  • Particulate Matter / analysis*
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / analysis*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Seasons
  • Vehicle Emissions / analysis


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