POLYCYCLIC AROMATIC HYDROCARBONS (PAH-compounds) are emitted during the incomplete combustion of certain organic materials (e.g.: wood, coal, oil and fuels). There are hundreds of such compounds in our environment. PAH compounds are present in both the indoor and outdoor air and thus it is unavoidable that they enter the human body. However, the extent of the exposure these compounds can be reduced.
The inappropriate heating methods used by the population, the exhaust gases of vehicles, industrial and forest fires and smoking emits numerous PAH compounds into the environment.
Furthermore, we can ingest these compounds through our consumption of food. The leafy vegetables, root vegetables, oil crops and grains produced at areas where the air and the soil are contaminated typically contain PAHs. They can also enter the air and our food through grilling over charcoal. PAH compounds were found in higher concentrations in foods that were traditionally smoked and dried, and also in fats and oils. The method of food preparation thus influences the extent of the exposure. For example, when cooking with used oil, the concentration of PAHs increases not just in the food, but also in the air, which can be made worse by not ventilating.
The European Commission set limit values for the concentration of certain PAH compounds in many food products (e.g.: oils, fats, smoked meat, baby food, infant formula). There are also limit values for the ambient air quality, children’s toys, childcare products and plastic and rubber products as they can occur in plastics, rubbers and in asphalt.
Many of these compounds are proven carcinogens (e.g.: benzo[a]pyrene). Most of them are hormone disruptors and are therefore considered as risk factors for several disorders. They may disturb sexual development and the normal development of the nervous and immune systems. They also contribute to the reduction of fertility.
Exposure to PAHs can be reduced with careful attention. Pregnant women or mothers with small children should avoid areas with high-traffic, especially when the air quality is poor. The use of public transportation or bicycle instead of driving could reduce emissions. Separate collection or composting of fallen leaves and garden waste instead of burning it also reduce PAH emissions. The burning of waste, plastics, rubber, waste oils and painted/glued/varnished wooden materials should be avoided and is also forbidden by law in many countries.
Pregnant women and children should avoid the smoke of the outdoor grill and should not consume a lot of food products conserved by traditional smoking. Cooking, steaming food should be preferred over frying (especially in used oil) or grilling using charcoal. Smoking should be avoided especially indoors around pregnant women and small children.