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Levels of 1-hydroxypyrene in urine of people living in an oil producing region of the Andean Amazon (Ecuador and Peru)



Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are contaminants with carcinogenic effects but little is known about their presence in environments surrounding oil drilling operations and spills or exposure levels in nearby communities. The objective of this study was to characterize PAH levels in people living near oil drilling operations in relation to fish consumption, occupation, source of water and other socio-demographic characteristics.


This pilot study examined PAH exposure by measuring 1-hydroxypyrene (1-OHP) in urine samples using high-performance liquid chromatography and fluorescence detection from 75 women and men in the Ecuadorian and Peruvian Amazon living near oil drilling operations and who answered a questionnaire collecting socio-demographic, occupational and dietary information. Data were analyzed using multiple linear regression models.


The mean value of 1-OHP was 0.40 μmol/mol creatinine, 95% CI 0.32–0.46 μmol/mol creatinine. Women who used water from a surface source (for washing clothes or bathing) had almost twice the amount of 1-OHP in their urine (mean 1-OHP = 0.41 μmol/mol creatinine, 95% CI 0.28–0.54 μmol/mol creatinine, n = 23) as women who used water from either a well, a spring or rain (mean 1-OHP = 0.22 μmol/mol creatinine, 95% CI 0.11–0.34 μmol/mol creatinine, n = 6). Men who reported eating a bottom-dwelling species as their most commonly consumed fish (mean 1-OHP = 0.50 μmol/mol creatinine, 95% CI 0.36–0.64 μmol/mol creatinine, n = 31) had twice as much 1-OHP in their urine as men who reported a pelagic fish (mean 1-OHP = 0.25 μmol/mol creatinine, 95% CI 0.15–0.35 μmol/mol creatinine, n = 15), signaling either oral (fish consumption) or dermal (while standing in water fishing benthic species) exposure.


More contact with surface water and benthic fish may result in higher levels of 1-OHP in human urine among the study population. Reducing the amount of oil and wastes entering the waterways in Andean Amazonia would be one way to reduce exposure.

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Analysis of 1-hydroxypyrene in urine samples was performed at the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch Laboratory (FNIHBL), Health Canada in Ottawa. Creatinine analysis was carried out at the Centre de Toxicologie du Québec (CTQ) of the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) by a lab technician. Sébastian Breau provided advice on the clustered linear regressions. The authors would also like to thank the three reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Jena Webb.

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Funding for this research was provided by the following organizations: Canada-Latin America and the Caribbean Research Exchange Grants (LACREG)-Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Internal McGill Grant-research grant, and EcoHealth Research Grant-International Development Research Centre (IDRC) (Grant no. 101860-001). The corresponding author had doctoral scholarships from the Fonds de recherche du Québec-Nature et technologies (FRQNT) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Funders played no role in study design; in the collection, analysis or interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the article for publication.

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Webb, J., Coomes, O.T., Mergler, D. et al. Levels of 1-hydroxypyrene in urine of people living in an oil producing region of the Andean Amazon (Ecuador and Peru). Int Arch Occup Environ Health 91, 105–115 (2018).

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  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
  • Pyrene
  • 1-Hydroxypyrene (1-OHP)
  • Oil contamination
  • Petroleum extraction
  • Amazon