This paper presents a systematic but preliminary study on the levels, inventory mass, emission sources and risk of exposure to PAHs in China by examining 14 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (from the 16 priority PAHs listed by the U.S. EPA, excluding naphthalene and acenaphthylene) in four main environmental media (air, water, soil and sediment). The concentration of individual PAHs in the air, soil, freshwater, seawater, freshwater sediment and marine sediment of China was compared with the global concentration range (GCR) of PAHs from a large number of studies. The PAH levels were found at the high end of the GCR in the air, at the upper middle of the GCR in the water body, and at the middle of the GCR in the soil and sediment. These indicate that PAHs still are emitted heavily in China. About 530 000 tons of Σ14PAH was estimated to be distributed into these four media in China. Soil possesses the highest proportion of the PAHs (60%), and the air has the lowest proportion (<0.5%). Therefore, the soil and sediment play an important role in the storage of PAHs. More than 10 thousand tons of PAHs are emitted from all kinds of sources. Firewood, straw, domestic and coking were considered as the main emissions of PAHs in the energy supply. A benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) based hazard quotient (HQ) was introduced to assess the potential toxic risk of exposure. The terrestrial water environment was found to have a high BaP exposure. The HQ value was more than 1 for 58% of freshwater and 39% of freshwater sediment samples. Urban and developed sites were considered to have high BaP exposure risk.
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