4. What are poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and why are they dangerous pollutants?

Poly-aromatic hydrocarbons are part of a group of chemicals known as “persistent organic pollutants” (POP). Exposure to POPs can lead serious health effects including certain cancers, birth defects, dysfunctional immune and reproductive systems, greater susceptibility to disease and even diminished intelligence.

The most commons sources of PAHs include:

  • Coal gasification
  • Heat and power generation
  • Coke production
  • Asphalt production and use
  • Coal tar production and use
  • Refining/distillation of crude oil
  • Wood treatment and preservation
  • Incineration
  • Landfills/waste disposal

In response to the global problem presented by POPs, the Stockholm Convention, adopted in 2001 and entered into force in 2004, requires Parties to take measures to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment. The Convention is administered by the United Nations Environment Programme and is based in Geneva, Switzerland. The countries that are Party to this convention can be found here.