Determination of urinary metabolites of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) for the risk assessment of PAH-exposed workers

Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 1997;69(4):231-9. doi: 10.1007/s004200050141.


A method for the simultaneous determination of urinary phenanthrene, fluoranthene, pyrene, chrysene and benzo[a]pyrene metabolites has been developed for individual risk assessment at polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH)-burdened workplaces. The concentration of urinary metabolites as a measure for individual PAH exposure takes account not only of PAH masses resorbed by the respiratory tract but also those incorporated percutaneously. The method allows the determination of 25 different components with a low margin of error; the individual metabolite profiles thereby allow conclusions on the individual characteristics of PAH-oxidizing enzymes (monooxygenases). The coefficients of variation are lower than 10%. After enzymatic treatment of the urine with glucuronidase and arylsulfatase one part of the benzene or toluene extract is treated with diazomethane to convert phenols into methylethers, while another part is used to convert dihydrodiols into phenols. After further purification the metabolites are determined by means of a combination of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. The PAH exposure of cock plant workers during several consecutive days resulted in fairly constant individual urinary metabolite profiles which, however, exhibited significant inter-individual variability. This held true also for Wistar rats exposed to tar pitch aerosol on 5 days during a period of 10 days. It was also demonstrated that in the case of coke plant workers there is a correlation between inhaled PAH and metabolites excreted. Mass relationships between inhaled PAH and metabolites excreted were found to differ from one individual to another.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Aerosols
  • Animals
  • Chemical Industry
  • Coal Tar / adverse effects
  • Coal Tar / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry / methods
  • Humans
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced
  • Occupational Diseases / urine*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / chemistry
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / urine*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Risk Assessment


  • Aerosols
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Coal Tar