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What are PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and why are they risk to our health? Are we contributing them to the environment and killing ourselves and our family slowly?

The major source of PAHs is the incomplete combustion of organic material such as coal, oil and wood. We encounter PAHs as atmospheric pollutants produced by small combustion units (such as fireplaces and stoves in homes), traffic, industrial processes, and tobacco smoke. They can also be detected in foodstuffs, especially at BBQ events or in smoked products.

Commercially, many PAHs are used as intermediaries in pharmaceuticals, agricultural products, such as pesticides, photographic products, thermosetting plastics, lubricating materials, and other chemical industries. Other PAHs may be contained in asphalt used for the construction of roads, as well as roofing tar. They are used also in the field of electronics, functional plastics, and liquid crystals.

If you think, you are not exposed to or contributing PAHs to environment as you are not an industrialist, think again. If you drive a four-wheeler, you are. PAHs are solid at room temperature and strongly bind to soot, soil or dust particles. PAHs enter the ambient air through dusts to which they are bound and abrasion from rubber products such as car tyres. PAHs are contained in the soot from diesel engine exhaust gases, for example, from cars, lorries and other diesel vehicles.

But why to get worried? Reason is major. Scientists have proved that PAH is carcinogenic, that is they can cause cancer. We all are at the edge of giving cancer to our family and society. Risk of breast cancer increases with continuous and long-term exposure to PAHs. They can also cause mutation, that is, they can alter your genes. Long-term health effects of exposure to PAHs may also include cataracts, kidney and liver damage, and jaundice.
PAHs can enter in our body from breathing ambient and indoor air, eating food containing PAHs, smoking cigarettes, or breathing smoke from open fireplaces. For non-smokers, the main route of exposure is through food. Charring meat or barbecuing food over a charcoal, wood, or other type of fire greatly increases the concentration of PAHs. Some crops, such as wheat, rye and lentils, may synthesize PAHs or absorb them via water, air, or soil. Other foods that may contain low levels of PAHs include roasted coffee, roasted peanuts, refined vegetable oil, grains, vegetables, and fruits. A variety of cosmetics and shampoos are made with coal tar and therefore contain PAHs. You are also exposed to PAHs with the use of cheap plastic products. Your kids are continuously under risk, if they are playing with low grade plastic toys. Therefore, PAH exposure occurs on a regular basis for most people. Now, what is the solution? Everyone can reduce his or her personal exposure to PAH. Follow the given points to avoid overexposure of PAHs:

  • Avoid smoking and exposure to second hand smoke.
  • Restrict diets such as charbroiled, chargrilled, and smoked meats and fish; tea; roasted peanuts; coffee; refined vegetable oil; cereals; spinach; wheat; rye; and lentils. (Check thoroughly, if they are organic and healthy to use)
  • Decrease the use of coal-tar-based cosmetics and shampoos.

Be alert and avoid slow death from PAH.