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Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are organic compounds which are non-essential for the growth of plants, animals or humans; yet, they are ubiquitous in the environment. When present in sufficient quantity in the environment, certain PAHs are toxic and carcinogenic to plants, animals and humans. This document discusses the characteristics of PAHs and their effects on various water uses, which include drinking water, aquatic life, wildlife, livestock watering, irrigation, recreation and aesthetics, and industrial water supplies.

A significant portion of this document discusses the effects of PAHs upon aquatic life, due to its sensitivity to PAHs. For the most part, the discussion is based on recent reviews, but current research articles documenting the toxic effects of PAHs were also consulted. The data obtained from the literature were used in formulating appropriate water quality criteria for PAHs in ambient waters in British Columbia.

Where possible, criteria for each water use are recommended to protect the user from the deleterious effects of PAHs. Water quality standards, objectives and criteria and accompanying rationales from other jurisdictions were reviewed and their suitability for British Columbia water was considered.


Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)

Abbreviation Full Word/Phrase

ACR Acridine
ANA acenaphthene
ANTH anthracene
9-MAN 9-methylanthracene
BAN benzanthracene
B[a]ANTH benz[a]anthracene or benzo[a]anthracene
B[b]CH benzo[b]chrysene
B[b]FLAN benzo[b]fluoranthene
B[j]FLAN benzo[j]fluoranthene
B[k]FLAN benzo[k]fluoranthene
B[a]P benzo[a]pyrene
B[ghi]PERY benzo[g,h,i]perylene
BP benzopyrene
CH chrysene
D[a,h]AN dibenzo[a,h]anthracene
DMB[a]AN dimethylbenz[a]anthracene
FLAN fluoranthene
FL fluorene
I[123-cd]PY indeno[1,2,3-cd]pyrene
NA naphthalene
1-MNA 1-methylnaphthalene
2-MNA 2-methylnaphthalene
3-MNA 3-methylnaphthalene
mNA methylnaphthalenes
d-MNA dimethylnaphthalenes
t-MNA trimethylnaphthalenes
PERY perylene
PH phenanthrene
1-MPH 1-methylphenanthrene
PY pyrene

Other Abbreviations Used

Abbreviation Full word/phrase

AET apparent effects threshold
BAET benthic apparent effects threshold
b.w. or bw body weight
dw dry weight
HPAH high molecular weight PAHs
LOEL lowest observed effect level
LPAH low molecular weight PAHs
MFO mixed-function oxidase (or oxygenase) enzyme system
NOEL No observed effect level
PAHs polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
TPAH total PAHs
ww wet weight, fresh weight
MW Molecular weight


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