Chemistry International
Vol. 21, No.4, July 1999

1999, Vol. 21
No. 4 (July)
.. 40th Council Meeting
.. IUPAC Activities
.. Reports from Symposia
.. Highlights from the Web
.. Report of 1998 Accounts
.. New Books and Publications
.. Provisional Recommendations
.. Awards
.. Conference Announcements
.. Conferences

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Chemistry International
Vol. 21, No. 4

July 1999

New Books and Publications

New Publications from the World Health Organization

Selected Nonheterocyclic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, Environmental Health Criteria, No. 202

This book evaluates the risks to human health and the environment posed by exposure to 33 nonheterocyclic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), of which benzo[a]pyreneis the most extensively investigated. Compounds from this large class were selected for evaluation on basis of abundant data documenting toxic effectsincluding carcinogenicity. More than 2 000 references to recent literature are included.

The book opens with a discussion of physical and chemical properties of PAH relevant to their toxicological ecotoxicological evaluation. Chapter 2, on sources of human and environmental exposure, notes that PAH are ubiquitous in the environment, with the largest emissions resulting from incomplete combustion of organic materials during industrial processes and other human activities. The most important sources are identified as coal coking; production of aluminum, iron, and steel; heating in power plants and residences; cooking; motor vehicle traffic; environmental tobacco smoke; and the incineration of refuse. Data on the environmental behavior of PAH are discussed in Chapter 3, which cites evidence that PAH accumulate in organisms in water and sediment and in their food, and that sediment and soil are the principal environmental sinks. Because most organisms have a high biotransformation potential for PAH, the report concludes that biomagnification is unlikely to occur.

A chapter on environmental levels and human exposure summarizes results from numerous studies aimed at detecting concentrations in the general environment, in indoor air, and in various occupational settings. For the general population, the main sources of exposure are identified as polluted ambient air, smoke from open fireplaces and cooking, environmental tobacco smoke, contaminated food and drinking water, and the use of PAH-contaminated products. Evidence shows that PAH are formed during food processing, roasting, frying, and baking. In occupational settings, exposure occurs via the lung and skin, with the highest exposures occurring during the processing and use of coal and mineral oil products, such as in coal coking, petroleum refining, road paving, asphalt refining, and impregnation of wood with creosotes. High concentrations have also been detected in the air of aluminum production plants using coal/pitch electrodes, and steel and iron foundries.

A review of data on kinetics and metabolism cites evidence that PAH are absorbed through the pulmonary tract, the gastrointestinal tract, and the skin, and are widely distributed throughout the organism following administration by any route. Although these lipophilic compounds have been detected in almost all internal organs, levels are highest in organs rich in lipids. Knowledge about the complex metabolism of PAH, which sheds light on mechanisms of carcinogenic action, is also considered in detail.

The most extensive chapters assess the large number of studies of toxic effects in laboratory mammals, in vitro test systems, and humans, giving particular attention to evidence of carcinogenicity. Findings from animal studies and in vitro tests confirm the carcinogenicity of 17 compounds. Many others are known to be mutagenic. While data indicate a relationship between the site of tumor development and the route of administration, PAH can induce tumors at other sites as well, because tissues such as the skin can metabolize PAH to their ultimate metabolites, and metabolites formed in the liver can reach various sites via the bloodstream. Current theoretical explanations for the carcinogenic action of PAH are considered in detail. The report also cites animal studies demonstrating the immunotoxic potential of a number of PAH.

In view of the paucity of data on human exposure to single, pure PAH, the chapter on health effects in humans draws on findings from epidemiological studies of occupational and environmental exposures to mixtures of PAH. These studies confirm the association between exposure to PAH and an increased risk of cancer in humans. Increased lung tumor rates linked to exposure were found in coke-oven workers, asphalt workers, and workers in Soderberg potrooms of aluminum reduction plants. The highest risk was found for coke-oven workers. In aluminum plants, adverse effects included increased risk of urinary bladder cancer, asthma-like symptoms, lung function abnormalities, and chronic bronchitis. Adverse effects on the immune system were also documented in several studies of exposed workers. The report further concludes that PAH are almost certainly one of the carcinogenic agents responsible for lung cancers in cigarette smokers.


Selected Nonheterocyclic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, Environmental Health Criteria, No. 202 1998, xxii + 883 pages (English with summaries in French and Spanish), ISBN 92 4 157202 7, CHF 174.-/USD 156.60; In developing countries: CHF 121.80, Order no. 1160202.


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