Skip to main content
Chemistry LibreTexts

17.7: Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and Cancer

  • Page ID
    201282
  • To Your Health: Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and Cancer

    The intense heating required for distilling coal tar results in the formation of PAHs. For many years, it has been known that workers in coal-tar refineries are susceptible to a type of skin cancer known as tar cancer. Investigations have shown that a number of PAHs are carcinogens. One of the most active carcinogenic compounds, benzopyrene, occurs in coal tar and has also been isolated from cigarette smoke, automobile exhaust gases, and charcoal-broiled steaks. It is estimated that more than 1,000 t of benzopyrene are emitted into the air over the United States each year. Only a few milligrams of benzopyrene per kilogram of body weight are required to induce cancer in experimental animals.