Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) include compounds with two or more fused benzene rings, many of which are carcinogens. Industrial sources produce hundreds of PAH, notably in the coke- and aluminium-producing industries. Because PAH are distributed at varying levels between gaseous and particulate phases, exposure assessment has been problematic. Here, we recommend that occupational exposures to naphthalene be considered as a potential surrogate for occupational PAH exposure for three reasons. Naphthalene is usually the most abundant PAH in a given workplace; naphthalene is present almost entirely in the gaseous phase and is, therefore, easily measured; and naphthalene offers several useful biomarkers, including the urinary metabolites 1- and 2-hydroxynaphthalene. These biomarkers can be used to evaluate total-body exposure to PAH, in much the same way that 1-hydroxypyrene has been applied. Using data from published sources, we show that log-transformed airborne levels of naphthalene are highly correlated with those of total PAH (minus naphthalene) in several industries (creosote impregnation: Pearson r
= 0.815, coke production: r
= 0.917, iron foundry: r
= 0.854, aluminium production: r
= 0.933). Furthermore, the slopes of the log–log regressions are close to one indicating that naphthalene levels are proportional to those of total PAH in those industries. We also demonstrate that log-transformed urinary levels of the hydroxynaphthalenes are highly correlated with those of 1-hydroxypyrene among coke oven workers and controls (r
= 0.857 and 0.876), again with slopes of log–log regressions close to one. These results support the conjecture that naphthalene is a useful metric for occupational PAH exposure. Since naphthalene has also been shown to be a respiratory carcinogen in several animal studies, it is also argued that naphthalene exposures should be monitored per se in industries with high levels of PAH.
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