Biological monitoring and biochemical effect monitoring of exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 1997;70(6):365-77. doi: 10.1007/s004200050231.


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are ubiquitous carcinogenic substances to which man is exposed in the environment and at certain workplaces. Estimation of the resulting health risk is therefore of great occupational-medical and environmental-medical importance. Determination of the DNA and protein adducts of PAHs is the most suitable way of estimating this risk. The analytical methods used thus far, above all, 32P postlabeling, immunoassays, and synchronous fluorescence spectroscopy, are, however, too nonspecific; therefore, the results lack accuracy and are not comparable with one another. Only the use of very specific methods of instrumental analysis [above all, high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and gas chromatography/ mass spectrometry (GC/MS)] can counteract this deficit. However, these methods can successfully be used mainly to determine the protein adducts of PAHs. Hemoglobin adducts, for example, do not have repair mechanisms like DNA adducts. They therefore occur in higher concentrations and can thus be analytically detected more easily. At present, mainly the monohydroxylated metabolites of PAHs are being determined in urine with great success. Using specific enrichment methods and HPLC with fluorescence detection it is even possible today to determine the internal PAH exposure of the general population. The detection limits lie in the lower nanogram-per-liter range. In view of the importance of this group of substances, determination of PAH adducts and the detection of their metabolites in urine will remain at the center of future occupational-medical and environmental-medical/toxicological research. In general, the lack of reference substances must be lamented.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Benzo(a)pyrene / adverse effects
  • Benzo(a)pyrene / analysis
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Blood Proteins / analysis
  • Carcinogens / analysis*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid / standards
  • DNA Adducts / analysis
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Environmental Monitoring / standards
  • Humans
  • Immunoassay / methods
  • Immunoassay / standards
  • Isotope Labeling / methods
  • Isotope Labeling / standards
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis
  • Phenanthrenes / analysis
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / adverse effects
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / analysis*
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / pharmacokinetics
  • Pyrenes / analysis
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence / methods
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence / standards


  • Biomarkers
  • Blood Proteins
  • Carcinogens
  • DNA Adducts
  • Phenanthrenes
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Pyrenes
  • Benzo(a)pyrene