Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon


Emissions of organic substances with potential toxicity to humans and the environment are a major concern surrounding the rapid industrial development in the Athabasca oil sands region (AOSR). Although concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in some environmental samples have been reported, a comprehensive picture of organic contaminant sources, pathways, and sinks within the AOSR has yet to be elucidated. We sought to use a dynamic multimedia environmental fate model to reconcile the emissions and residue levels reported for three representative PAHs in the AOSR. Data describing emissions to air compiled from two official sources result in simulated concentrations in air, soil, water, and foliage that tend to fall close to or below the minimum measured concentrations of phenanthrene, pyrene, and benzo(a)pyrene in the environment. Accounting for evaporative emissions (e.g., from tailings pond disposal) provides a more realistic representation of PAH distribution in the AOSR. Such indirect emissions to air were found to be a greater contributor of PAHs to the AOSR atmosphere relative to reported direct emissions to air. The indirect pathway transporting uncontrolled releases of PAHs to aquatic systems via the atmosphere may be as significant a contributor of PAHs to aquatic systems as other supply pathways. Emission density estimates for the three PAHs that account for tailings pond disposal are much closer to estimated global averages than estimates based on the available emissions datasets, which fall close to the global minima. Our results highlight the need for improved accounting of PAH emissions from oil sands operations, especially in light of continued expansion of these operations.

Concepts: Phenanthrene, Organic chemistry, Anthracene, Aromaticity, Naphthalene, Petroleum, Hydrocarbon, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon


The Deepwater Horizon disaster released more than 636 million L of crude oil into the northern Gulf of Mexico. The spill oiled upper surface water spawning habitats for many commercially and ecologically important pelagic fish species. Consequently, the developing spawn (embryos and larvae) of tunas, swordfish, and other large predators were potentially exposed to crude oil-derived polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Fish embryos are generally very sensitive to PAH-induced cardiotoxicity, and adverse changes in heart physiology and morphology can cause both acute and delayed mortality. Cardiac function is particularly important for fast-swimming pelagic predators with high aerobic demand. Offspring for these species develop rapidly at relatively high temperatures, and their vulnerability to crude oil toxicity is unknown. We assessed the impacts of field-collected Deepwater Horizon (MC252) oil samples on embryos of three pelagic fish: bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, and an amberjack. We show that environmentally realistic exposures (1-15 µg/L total PAH) cause specific dose-dependent defects in cardiac function in all three species, with circulatory disruption culminating in pericardial edema and other secondary malformations. Each species displayed an irregular atrial arrhythmia following oil exposure, indicating a highly conserved response to oil toxicity. A considerable portion of Gulf water samples collected during the spill had PAH concentrations exceeding toxicity thresholds observed here, indicating the potential for losses of pelagic fish larvae. Vulnerability assessments in other ocean habitats, including the Arctic, should focus on the developing heart of resident fish species as an exceptionally sensitive and consistent indicator of crude oil impacts.

Concepts: Thunnus, Scombridae, Heart, Petroleum, Fish, Yellowfin tuna, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, Tuna


BACKGROUND: Bronchial asthma is one of the most prevalent diseases in Arab children. Environmental pollution has been suggested to be considered causative of asthma, nasal symptoms and bronchitis in both children and adult. The objectives of this study were to evaluate the association between serum polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) levels, asthma and allergic outcomes among Saudi children aged up to 15 yrs. We hypothesized that increased serum PAHs are associated with allergy, asthma, or respiratory symptoms. METHODS: A total of 195 Saudi children (98 asthma pediatric patients and 97 healthy controls) were randomly selected from the Riyadh Cohort Study for inclusion. The diagnosis of Asthma was based on established pediatric diagnosis and medications taken. RESULTS: Asthma related markers showed highly significant differences between children with and without asthma. Thus IgE, resistin and IL-4 were significantly increased (p 0.004, 0.001 and 0.003, respectively) in children with asthma compared with non-asthma control subjects. GMCSF, IFN-gamma, IL-5, IL-8 and IL-10, on the other hand, were significantly decreased in children with asthma (p 0.003, 0.03, 0.001, 0.004 and 0.03, respectively). Strong associations between serum PAHs levels and biomarkers of childhood asthma were detected in Arabic children. Data confirmed the role of naphthalene, 4H-cyclobenta[def]phenanthrene, 1,2-benzanthracene, chrysene and benzo(e)acephenanthrylene in childhood asthma; levels of these PAHs were correlated with asthma related biomarkers including IgE, resistin, GMCSF and IFN-gamma as well as IL-4, IL-5, IL-8 and IL-10 cytokines. CONCLUSIONS: This data highlight the pivotal role of specific PAHs in childhood asthma.

Concepts: Chrysene, Benzene, Aromaticity, Hydrocarbon, Naphthalene, Asthma, Allergy, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon


Plant contamination by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) is crucial to food safety and human health. Enzyme inhibitors are commonly utilized in agriculture to control plant metabolism of organic components. This study revealed that the enzyme inhibitor ascorbic acid (AA) significantly reduced the activities of peroxidase (POD) and polyphenol oxidase (PPO), thus enhancing the potential risks of PAH contamination in tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.). POD and PPO enzymes in vitro effectively decomposed naphthalene (NAP), phenanthrene (PHE) and anthracene (ANT). The presence of AA reduced POD and PPO activities in plants, and thus was likely responsible for enhanced PAH accumulation in tall fescue. This conclusion is supported by the significantly enhanced uptake of PHE in plants in the presence of AA, and the positive correlation between enzyme inhibition efficiencies and the rates of metabolism of PHE in tall fescue roots. This study provides a new perspective, that the common application of enzyme inhibitors in agricultural production could increase the accumulation of organic contaminants in plants, hence enhancing risks to food safety and quality.

Concepts: Enzymes, Metabolism, Adenosine triphosphate, Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, Festuca arundinacea, Enzyme, Enzyme inhibitor, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were analyzed for 136 indoor dust samples collected from Guizhou province, southwest of China. The ∑18PAHs concentrations ranged from 2.18 μg•g-1 to 14.20 μg•g-1 with the mean value of 6.78 μg•g-1. The highest Σ18PAHs concentration was found in dust samples from orefields, followed by city, town and village. Moreover, the mean concentration of Σ18PAHs in indoor dust was at least 10% higher than that of outdoors. The 4-6 rings PAHs, contributing more than 70% of ∑18PAHs, were the dominant species. PAHs ratios, principal component analysis with multiple linear regression (PCA-MLR) and hierarchical clustering analysis (HCA) were applied to evaluate the possible sources. Two major origins of PAHs in indoor dust were identified as vehicle emissions and coal combustion. The mean incremental lifetime cancer risk (ILCR) due to human exposure to indoor dust PAHs in city, town, village and orefield of Guizhou province, China was 6.14×10-6, 5.00×10-6, 3.08×10-6, 6.02×10-6 for children and 5.92×10-6, 4.83×10-6, 2.97×10-6, 5.81×10-6 for adults, respectively.

Concepts: Arithmetic mean, Regression analysis, Aromaticity, Principal component analysis, Yunnan, Naphthalene, Southwest China, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon


The absence of well-executed environmental monitoring in the Athabasca oil sands (Alberta, Canada) has necessitated the use of indirect approaches to determine background conditions of freshwater ecosystems before development of one of the Earth’s largest energy deposits. Here, we use highly resolved lake sediment records to provide ecological context to ∼50 y of oil sands development and other environmental changes affecting lake ecosystems in the region. We show that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) within lake sediments, particularly C1-C4-alkylated PAHs, increased significantly after development of the bitumen resource began, followed by significant increases in dibenzothiophenes. Total PAH fluxes in the modern sediments of our six study lakes, including one site ∼90 km northwest of the major development area, are now ∼2.5-23 times greater than ∼1960 levels. PAH ratios indicate temporal shifts from primarily wood combustion to petrogenic sources that coincide with greater oil sands development. Canadian interim sediment quality guidelines for PAHs have been exceeded since the mid-1980s at the most impacted site. A paleoecological assessment of Daphnia shows that this sentinel zooplankter has not yet been negatively impacted by decades of high atmospheric PAH deposition. Rather, coincident with increases in PAHs, climate-induced shifts in aquatic primary production related to warmer and drier conditions are the primary environmental drivers producing marked daphniid shifts after ∼1960 to 1970. Because of the striking increase in PAHs, elevated primary production, and zooplankton changes, these oil sands lake ecosystems have entered new ecological states completely distinct from those of previous centuries.

Concepts: Aromaticity, Oil sands, Lake, Canada, Alberta, Petroleum, Sediment, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon


The Deepwater Horizon disaster drew global attention to the toxicity of crude oil and the potential for adverse health effects amongst marine life and spill responders in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The blowout released complex mixtures of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) into critical pelagic spawning habitats for tunas, billfishes, and other ecologically important top predators. Crude oil disrupts cardiac function and has been associated with heart malformations in developing fish. However, the precise identity of cardiotoxic PAHs, and the mechanisms underlying contractile dysfunction are not known. Here we show that phenanthrene, a PAH with a benzene 3-ring structure, is the key moiety disrupting the physiology of heart muscle cells. Phenanthrene is a ubiquitous pollutant in water and air, and the cellular targets for this compound are highly conserved across vertebrates. Our findings therefore suggest that phenanthrene may be a major worldwide cause of vertebrate cardiac dysfunction.

Concepts: Naphthalene, Aromaticity, Petroleum, Muscle, Hydrocarbon, Cardiac muscle, Heart, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon


Prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos (CPF), an organophosphate insecticide, is associated with neurobehavioral deficits in humans and animal models. We investigated associations between CPF exposure and brain morphology using magnetic resonance imaging in 40 children, 5.9-11.2 y, selected from a nonclinical, representative community-based cohort. Twenty high-exposure children (upper tertile of CPF concentrations in umbilical cord blood) were compared with 20 low-exposure children on cortical surface features; all participants had minimal prenatal exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. High CPF exposure was associated with enlargement of superior temporal, posterior middle temporal, and inferior postcentral gyri bilaterally, and enlarged superior frontal gyrus, gyrus rectus, cuneus, and precuneus along the mesial wall of the right hemisphere. Group differences were derived from exposure effects on underlying white matter. A significant exposure × IQ interaction was derived from CPF disruption of normal IQ associations with surface measures in low-exposure children. In preliminary analyses, high-exposure children did not show expected sex differences in the right inferior parietal lobule and superior marginal gyrus, and displayed reversal of sex differences in the right mesial superior frontal gyrus, consistent with disruption by CPF of normal behavioral sexual dimorphisms reported in animal models. High-exposure children also showed frontal and parietal cortical thinning, and an inverse dose-response relationship between CPF and cortical thickness. This study reports significant associations of prenatal exposure to a widely used environmental neurotoxicant, at standard use levels, with structural changes in the developing human brain.

Concepts: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, Brain, Frontal lobe, Magnetic resonance imaging, Organophosphate, Umbilical cord, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum


We show that the different bond orders of individual carbon-carbon bonds in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and fullerenes can be distinguished by noncontact atomic force microscopy (AFM) with a carbon monoxide (CO)-functionalized tip. We found two different contrast mechanisms, which were corroborated by density functional theory calculations: The greater electron density in bonds of higher bond order led to a stronger Pauli repulsion, which enhanced the brightness of these bonds in high-resolution AFM images. The apparent bond length in the AFM images decreased with increasing bond order because of tilting of the CO molecule at the tip apex.

Concepts: Bond order, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, Electron, Benzene, Chemical bond, Quantum chemistry, Atom, Carbon


Rare-earth (RE) oxide surfaces are of significant importance for catalysis and were recently reported to possess intrinsic hydrophobicity. The surface chemistry of these oxides in the low temperature regime, however, remains to a large extent unexplored. The reactions occurring at RE surfaces at room temperature (RT) in real air environment, in particular, in presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), were not addressed until now. Discovering these reactions would shed light onto intermediate steps occurring in automotive exhaust catalysts before reaching the final high operational temperature and full conversion of organics. Here we first address physical properties of the RE oxide, nitride and fluoride surfaces modified by exposure to ambient air and then we report a room temperature reaction between PAH and RE oxide surfaces, exemplified by tetracene (C18H12) on a Gd2O3. Our study evidences a novel effect - oxidation of higher hydrocarbons at significantly lower temperatures (~300 K) than previously reported (>500 K). The evolution of the surface chemical composition of RE compounds in ambient air is investigated and correlated with the surface wetting. Our surprising results reveal the complex behavior of RE surfaces and motivate follow-up studies of reactions between PAH and catalytic surfaces at the single molecule level.

Concepts: Catalysis, Adsorption, Oxygen, Chemical compound, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Chemical reaction, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon