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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract -

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH's) in the Terrestrial Environment—A Review1


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 12 No. 4, p. 427-441
    Received: Mar 7, 1983

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  1. Nelson T. Edwards2



This review, while touching on sources of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH's) and their degradation, emphasizes research that addresses their fate in the terrestrial environment. Typical endogenous concentrations of PAH's in soil and vegetation range from 1 to 10 µg/kg and from 10 to 20 µg/kg, respectively. Endogenous PAH's are due to plant synthesis, forest and prairie fires, volcanoes, etc. Anthropogenic sources are primarily from fossil fuel burning. Estimated annual release of benzo(a)pyrene (BaP) from fossil fuel combustion is 4.6 × 106 kg. Concentrations of PAH's in air, soil, and vegetation vary with distances from known sources. Reported BaP concentrations in air of nonurban areas of the United States ranged from 0.01 to 1.9 µg/m3; concentrations in urban areas ranged from 0.1 to 61.0 µg/m3. Concentrations of BaP in soil may typically reach 1000 µg/kg, and values exceeding 100 000 µg/kg have been reported near known sources. Typically, concentrations for total PAH's (usually the sum of 5 to 20 PAH's) exceed BaP concentrations by at least one order of magnitude. The maximum PAH concentration in vegetation growing near a known source was 25 000 µg/kg, but values more typically range from 20 to 1000 µg/kg. Reported BaP concentrations in vegetation ranged from 0.1 to 150 µg/kg. Concentrations in vegetation were generally less than those in soil where the plants were growing. Concentration ratios (concentration in vegetation/concentration in soil) ranged from 0.0001 to 0.33 for BaP and from 0.001 to 0.18 for the sum of 17 PAH's tested. However, laboratory experiments demonstrated that plants can concentrate PAH's above those found in their environment. Controlled experiments with a few PAH's demonstrated uptake by both leaves and roots and subsequent translocation to other plant parts. Washing leaves of vegetation contaminated with PAH's removes no more than 25% of the contamination. There is some evidence that plants can catabolize PAH's, but metabolic pathways have not been defined well.

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