Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) levels in various food components and in human adipose tissue. A comparison with PAH values in the atmosphere

C. Guerranti, F. Cetta, G. Perra, A. Moroni, R. Di Felice, S. Focardi, F. Sorbellini, A. Azzara, F. Cisternino, A. Dhamo, G. Malagnino, L. Moltoni, S. Focardi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), are endowed with an extremely high mutagenic and/or carcinogenic potential and are classified as persistent toxic compounds. Because of their volatility, lipophilicity and easy dispersion, PAHs are commonly found throughout the ecosphere. The present study reports preliminary data concerning PAH levels in human adipose tissue samples and foods.We analysed a broad range of food products commonly available on the market in the city of Siena (Central Italy) and matched PAH levels in food with levels in samples of adipose tissue from patients with colorectal cancer and controls living in the same city or province and compared these data with those obtained from various air samples in the Milan metropolitan area. Results: PAH values were between 126.10 ng g-1 and 12582.86 ng g-1 fresh weight (f.w.) in adipose tissues.The mean total PAH concentration was 2416.53 ng g-1 f.w. The mean concentration of the Σ16PAHs (16 PAHs listed by US EPA as compounds of interest) resulted higher in the fat samples of cancer patients than in controls, even if differences didn't result statistically significant. PAH content was higher in cereal based foods than in other foods. PAH dietary intake was estimated at about 6 μg per week. A strong seasonal trend was observed for PAH concentrations, with maximum autumn-winter concentrations (Σ-9PAHs (PM2,5) = 18.8± 6 ng/m3 and minimum spring-summer values (Σ-9PAHs (PM2,5 = 1.2±0,6 ng/m 3). Present data are preliminary. However, they suggest that a link between food intake, smoke and exposure to pollutants and biological parameters, such as fat content of PAHs should deserve further research and that all possible sources of PAHs (atmosphere, food) and all routes of entrance (respiratory tract, digestive tract, skin), have to be taken into account, when trying to evaluate the adverse health effects of environmental toxic compounds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)397-404
Number of pages8
JournalGIMT - Giornale Italiano delle Malattie del Torace
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • Colorectal cancer
  • Dietary intake
  • Environmental contaminants
  • PAHs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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