We investigated the utility of unmetabolized naphthalene (Nap) and phenanthrene (Phe) in urine as surrogates for exposures to mixtures of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Our study 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 aluminum industries were also investigated.
In post-shift urine, the highest estimated geometric mean concentrations of Nap and Phe were observed in coke-oven workers (Nap: 2,490 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 aluminum industries. The published air measurements also indicated that Nap and Phe levels were proportional to the levels of all combined PAHs in those industries.
Levels of Nap and Phe in urine reflect airborne exposures to these compounds and are promising surrogates for occupational exposures to PAH mixtures.
Urinary naphthalene and phenanthrene are promising surrogates for occupational exposures to PAHs.
Measurement of urinary naphthalene and phenanthrene could simplify the assessment of occupational exposures to PAHs.
Keywords: naphthalene, phenanthrene, PAH, biomarkers, exposure