Question: Risks of PAH exposure from contaminated dust?

kgradow1 is asking a question about general
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by kgradow1 | January 21, 2021 23:52 | #25513

I live in Providence where there was recently a large exposed pile of contaminated fill related to a highway project that was left uncovered form 3 months (potentially much longer). It was subsequently covered and then removed, but there are significant concerns about community exposure from dust blowing off the site. Here is one of the early articles covering the issue:

RIDOH (Health Department) has stated that they found PAH concentrations (including benzypyrene) ranging from non-detect to 3 mg/kg. Residential standard (lifetime exposure) - .4 mg/kg. Industrial commercial standard (exposure from working - long-term exposure - .8 mg/kg, but those are both long-term exposure standards. Apparently soil samples on the site also tested positive for low levels of lead.

I am going to cross-reference this with some of the air quality resources on PL, but does anyone have experience with PAH testing to help put these numbers in context? We are expecting to get more information in the coming days on the testing plan, how samples were taken, and what the specific levels are, and it would be great to get some community perspectives on how to put this information in context.


Yes, I have experience. But it's old enough that it may not be helpful.

A company made rubber stoppers for test tubes, drug stoppers, etc. The stoppers are normally black and take a colorant-usually carbon black. The carbon black needed tested for safety. One test was for PNAs ( polynuclear aromatics, also called PAH).

Their are probably more modern ways to do the test. If I remember right, this method started out with a large amount of sample in a soxhlet extractor. After about 24 hours of extraction, a visible scan was taken of the material and compared to a standard. Calculation was done and the amount of PNA calculated. It's not bad,except this was not a water based extraction.

I think public lab used to have a paper on PAHs , PNAs, etc. Could be wrong. I couldn't find the paper.

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How do you plan on testing for lead? Initial testing would have to be by AA or ICP(I would guess). But if you get past that and are trying to find a large lead source, are you considering one of the EDXRF "guns"?

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We are waiting for RIDEM (dept of environmental management) to share their test results, I'm just trying to get a sense of what typical ranges are as we dive in and start trying to interpret what will surely be a set of reasonably complicated documents.

The pile itself has been removed and there isn't currently a discussion of doing further testing at any adjacent sites. Mostly at this point it's understanding 1) how long the exposed pile was left uncovered, and 2) what it contained.

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Why dont you do some community soil testing in areas where folks could be the most exposed? Plus, its much easier to test the soil as a surrogate for what was in the air (vs air sampling). This way you are not relying on the government officials , and you have your own data!!! This is what we did in Tonawanda, NY. As a result of our work, we developed a toolkit. Plus I think the chemical you are talking about is Benzo-a -pyrene. Its very dangerous. PAH's are a group of over 100 chemicals , of which, these are the most dangerous :Acenaphthene Anthracene Benz[a]anthracene Benzo[a]pyrene Benzo[e]pyrene Chrysene Flouranthene Flourene Phenanthrene Pyrene

I can also provide you with the SCO (soil cleanup objectives) we used, if interested.

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@jjcreedon - great points around surrogate testing. Also very eye opening about the PAH's ...!

Hi @jjcreedon thank you for this! Would this be appropriate for soil conveyed to neighboring properties by wind?

I think one of the constraints is that the original soil pile is no longer available (it's been moved, and presumably it was restricted access to the public) so it's not possible to do original testing, we only have their test results. There are concerns about it blowing into nearby yards during the period when it was uncovered.

Do you think this would show up in soil? One thing that RIDOH emphasized is that because the area is already heavily trafficked, it might be hard to differentiate the source, since PAHs are everywhere anyway.

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yes, we had the same issue here. Very difficult to pinpoint source. However, toxins are toxins.. This is what we did: 1.we tested (soil) in nearby yards and playground to shine a light on the issue (we got some press coverage). We found elevated PAH's that were associated with the plant we were targeting (there were other potential sources too). 3.We held a press conference announcing the results and calling for a comprehensive investigation. 4. In the meantime, TCC was found guilty in criminal court. 5.. we ended up using our test results in a proposal and submitted to the judge presiding over the Tonawanda Coke guilty verdict and sentencing. 6. He funded our $711,000 soil study!

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