The dangerous effects of industrial chemicals on the environment and our health are becoming more serious.  Some of these chemical toxins are hiding in places you may not be aware of. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH’s) are the second of five major groups of environmental toxins that are having a disastrous effect on our health and our global environment.  Read on to learn about how we are exposed, how they affect our health, and steps to reduce exposure to this group of toxins.


What are PAH’s?

These toxins are formed from the incomplete burning of coal, oil and gas, garbage, or other organic substances like tobacco or charbroiled meat. That smell when you first turn on your gas stove burners is gas that didn’t burn completely.  Anything that has a flame or is burning will produce PAH’s, including campfires, grills, cigarettes, hookahs, as well as volcanoes, forest fires, burning coal, and car exhaust. PAH’s are microscopic in size, remain suspended in the air and can move long distances – even around the world! Some PAH’s are manufactured and found in coal tar, crude oil, creosote, and roofing tar, but a few are used in medicines, dandruff shampoo, or to make dyes, plastics, and pesticides.  Basically, they are everywhere.

How am I exposed to PAHs?

Once in your body, PAH’s can spread and target fat tissues. Target organs include the kidneys and liver. However, PAH’s will leave your body through urine and feces in a matter of days.

  • PAH’s are present in cereals, grains, flour, bread, fruits, fish, meat, processed or pickled foods, and contaminated cows milk or human breast milk
  • Unborn babies are exposed through the transfer of PAH’s into the placenta.
  • Breathing air containing PAH’s from cigarette smoke, wood smoke, forest fires, volcanoes, vehicle exhaust, asphalt roads, mothballs, blacktop, or creosote wood preservatives
  • PAH content in plants and animals may be much higher than the PAH content of soil or water in their environment.
  • Eating grilled or charred meats, contaminated cereals, flour, bread, vegetables, fruits, meats, and processed or pickled foods
  • Using some special-purpose skin creams and anti-dandruff shampoos that contain coal tar
 How do they damage health?

PAH’s are known to cause cancer and other adverse health effects in the lungs, gastrointestinal system, kidneys, skin, and possibly reproductive system.

Since 2009, there have been many studies reporting that traffic pollution causes genetic changes in the womb that increase a child’s risk of developing asthma. The culprit is prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).  When a mother is exposed to PAH’s during pregnancy, genes are affected in the developing fetus which are associated with a four times greater incidence of asthma symptoms in children under age 5. Heavy-traffic urban areas have high levels of PAH’s in the air.

What can I do?

The primary exposure to PAH’s is through what you breathe.  Avoiding breathing the air from these above sources is ideal but not so easy.  The alternative is to protect yourself from exposure to car fumes, tobacco smoke, fires, and more, by using a mask to cover your mouth and nose when you have to be around heavy traffic or other areas of exposure. 

Turn on a vent over your gas cooktop or stove just before and during use. If you have air purifiers, use them 24/7. Reduce exposure where you can, and continue to strengthen your gut, immune and detox body systems!



ATSDR (2014, May). Toxic Substances Portal. Toxicological Profiles. Retrieved from

Crinnion, W. (2010). Clean, Green & Lean: Drop the weight in 30 days. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.

Gehle, K. (2009, July). ATSDR case studies in environmental medicine toxicity of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) [PDF document]. Retrieved from

Krohn, J. and F. Taylor (2000). Natural Detoxification. 2nd ed. Vancouver: Hartley and Marks Publishers Inc.