Predictors of urinary polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon metabolites in girls from the San Francisco Bay Area

Esther M. John, Jocelyn Koo, Sue A. Ingles, Theresa H. Keegan, Jenny T. Nguyen, Catherine Thomsen, Mary Beth Terry, Regina M. Santella, Khue Nguyen, Beizhan Yan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) exposures from tobacco smoke, automobile exhaust, grilled or smoked meat and other sources are widespread and are a public health concern, as many are classified as probable carcinogens and suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals. PAH exposures can be quantified using urinary biomarkers. Methods: Seven urinary metabolites of naphthalene, fluorene, phenanthrene, and pyrene were measured in two samples collected from girls aged 6–16 years from the San Francisco Bay Area. We used Spearman correlation coefficients (SCC) to assess correlations among metabolite concentrations (corrected for specific gravity) separately in first (n = 359) and last (N = 349) samples, and to assess consistency of measurements in samples collected up to 72 months apart. Using multivariable linear regression, we assessed variation in mean metabolites across categories of participant characteristics and potential outdoor, indoor, and dietary sources of PAH exposures. Results: The detection rate of PAH metabolites was high (4 metabolites in ≥98% of first samples; 5 metabolites in ≥95% of last samples). Correlations were moderate to strong between fluorene, phenanthrene and pyrene metabolites (SCC 0.43–0.82), but weaker between naphthalene and the other metabolites (SCC 0.18–0.36). SCC between metabolites in first and last samples ranged from 0.15 to 0.49. When classifying metabolite concentrations into tertiles based on single samples (first or last samples) vs. the average of the two samples, agreement was moderate to substantial (weighted kappa statistics 0.52–0.65). For specific metabolites, concentrations varied by age, race/ethnicity, and body mass index percentile, as well as by outdoor sources (season of sample collection, street traffic), indoor sources (heating with gas, cigarette smoke), and dietary sources (frequent use of grill, consumption of smoked meat or fish) of PAH exposures. Conclusions: Urinary PAH exposure was widespread in girls aged 6–16 years and associated with several sources of exposure. Tertile classification of a single urine sample provides reliable PAH exposure ranking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number112534
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - Apr 1 2022


  • Biomarkers
  • Children
  • Epidemiology
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
  • Urinary metabolites

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)


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