Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Urinary naphthalene and phenanthrene as biomarkers of occupational exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  1. J R Sobus1,
  2. S Waidyanatha1,
  3. M D McClean2,
  4. R F Herrick2,
  5. T J Smith2,
  6. E Garshick3,4,
  7. F Laden2,4,
  8. J E Hart2,4,
  9. Y Zheng5,
  10. S M Rappaport6
  1. 1
    School of Public Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
  2. 2
    Exposure, Epidemiology and Risk Program, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  3. 3
    Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Section, Medical Service, VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  4. 4
    Channing Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  5. 5
    National Institute for Occupational Health and Poison Control, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Beijing, China
  6. 6
    School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA
  1. Professor S M Rappaport, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-7356, USA; srappaport{at}


Objectives: The study investigated the utility of unmetabolised naphthalene (Nap) and phenanthrene (Phe) in urine as surrogates for exposures to mixtures of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Methods: The report included workers exposed to diesel exhausts (low PAH exposure level, n = 39) as well as those exposed to emissions from asphalt (medium PAH exposure level, n = 26) and coke ovens (high PAH exposure level, n = 28). Levels of Nap and Phe were measured in urine from each subject using head space-solid phase microextraction and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Published levels of airborne Nap, Phe and other PAHs in the coke-producing and aluminium industries were also investigated.

Results: In post-shift urine, the highest estimated geometric mean concentrations of Nap and Phe were observed in coke-oven workers (Nap: 2490 ng/l; Phe: 975 ng/l), followed by asphalt workers (Nap: 71.5 ng/l; Phe: 54.3 ng/l), and by diesel-exposed workers (Nap: 17.7 ng/l; Phe: 3.60 ng/l). After subtracting logged background levels of Nap and Phe from the logged post-shift levels of these PAHs in urine, the resulting values (referred to as ln(adjNap) and ln(adjPhe), respectively) were significantly correlated in each group of workers (0.71⩽ Pearson r⩽0.89), suggesting a common exposure source in each case. Surprisingly, multiple linear regression analysis of ln(adjNap) on ln(adjPhe) showed no significant effect of the source of exposure (coke ovens, asphalt and diesel exhaust) and further suggested that the ratio of urinary Nap/Phe (in natural scale) decreased with increasing exposure levels. These results were corroborated with published data for airborne Nap and Phe in the coke-producing and aluminium industries. The published air measurements also indicated that Nap and Phe levels were proportional to the levels of all combined PAHs in those industries.

Conclusion: Levels of Nap and Phe in urine reflect airborne exposures to these compounds and are promising surrogates for occupational exposures to PAH mixtures.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Funding: Financial support for this work was provided by the following grants from the National Institutes of Health: the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences through training grant T32ES07018, research grant P42ES05948 (SMR), and centre grants P30ES10126 (SMR) and P30ES0002 (TJS) and the National Cancer Institute through research grant R01CA90792 (EG, TJS, FL, JEH).

  • Competing interests: None.

  • Ethics approval:All subjects included in this study provided informed consent to participate according to protocols approved by ethics committees at the Harvard University School of Public Health (Boston, Massachusetts, USA) and the Institute for Occupational Medicine (Beijing, China).

  • Disclaimer: The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official view of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Cancer Institute or the National Institutes of Health.