Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are organic compounds that are one of the most dangerous air pollutants. 80% of PAHs in Poland are created as a result of coal burning. The best known aromatic hydrocarbons are benzopyrene, including benzo [a] pyrene. These compounds are highly cancerous and have a high ability to accumulate in the body, affecting human DNA. Benzo [a] pyrene can travel very long distances in the atmosphere, even between continents.
Benzopyrenes are formed naturally (forest fires, volcanic eruptions), and are a consequence of human activities. However, the main source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons is the burning of coal and oil, and derived products from oil. Pollution of this type is produced by power plants and combined heat and power plants, as well as households using old-generation coal-fired furnaces and boilers. Benzopyrenes also arise in connection with smoking and are associated with car exhaust emissions.
Benzopyrene is also found in foods whose consumption exposes people to cancer. The main source of these carcinogenic compounds is food that has undergone this type of heat treatment such as frying, baking, smoking or grilling. Aromatic hydrocarbons accumulate in animal fat, which is why they can easily enter the body as a result of eating meat or dairy products. Animals collect them together with plant food contaminated with PAHs. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can therefore enter the human body in different ways – through the skin, inhaled air, as well as contaminated food products.