Beyond the obvious: Environmental health implications of polar polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Oluyoye Idowu, Kirk T. Semple, Kavitha Ramadass, Wayne O'Connor, Phil Hansbro, Palanisami Thavamani

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

204 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


The genotoxic, mutagenic and carcinogenic effects of polar polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (polar PAHs) are believed to surpass those of their parent PAHs; however, their environmental and human health implications have been largely unexplored. Oxygenated PAHs (oxy-PAHs) is a critical class of polar PAHs associated with carcinogenic effects without enzymatic activation. They also cause an upsurge in reactive oxygen species (ROS) in living cells. This results in oxidative stress and other consequences, such as abnormal gene expressions, altered protein activities, mutagenesis, and carcinogenesis. Similarly, some nitrated PAHs (N-PAHs) are probable human carcinogens as classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Heterocyclic PAHs (polar PAHs containing nitrogen, sulphur and oxygen atoms within the aromatic rings) have been shown to be potent endocrine disruptors, primarily through their estrogenic activities. Despite the high toxicity and enhanced environmental mobility of many polar PAHs, they have attracted only a little attention in risk assessment of contaminated sites. This may lead to underestimation of potential risks, and remediation end points. In this review, the toxicity of polar PAHs and their associated mechanisms of action, including their role in mutagenic, carcinogenic, developmental and teratogenic effects are critically discussed. This review suggests that polar PAHs could have serious toxicological effects on human health and should be considered during risk assessment of PAH-contaminated sites. The implications of not doing so were argued and critical knowledge gaps and future research requirements discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)543-557
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironment International
Early online date05 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


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