Exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in occupational versus urban environmental air
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To evaluate the balance between occupational and environmental exposure to suspended particulate matter (SPM) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), comparison measurements were performed in a coal-fired power plant and the urban atmosphere from the town nearby. Methods: The analysis of SPM for PAH content was done according to a high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC)-based method. The microscopic assessment was performed using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) by silver coverage of the samples derived by air filter. Results: Contrary to expectations, the results showed low levels of particle-bound PAHs in the occupational environment (<1 ng benzo(a)pyrene/m3 air) and high levels in urban air (range 80–1250 ng benzo(a)pyrene/m3). The SPM collected from the power plant exhibited non-respirable characteristics (particles larger than 10 μm), whereas urban SPM almost exclusively contained respirable airborne particles (<3 μm). Conclusions: The PAH burden, combined with the enhanced probability of respiratory absorption, confers a much greater hazard potential to the urban SPM. Under these conditions, in areas or countries in which old technologies remain in use, occupational exposure to SPM containing PAHs might represent a severe underestimation of the total risk as it does not take into account the background air pollution.
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