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What are Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons?

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, or PAH’s for short, are a large group of chemicals that are capable of harming human health. Some of the most harmful PAH’s include benzo[a]pyrene, benz[a]anthracene and chrysene, benzo[b]fluoranthene, benzo[j]fluoranthene, benzo[k]fluoranthene, benzo[ghi]perylene, coronene, dibenz(a,h)anthracene (C2OH14), indeno(1,2,3-cd)pyrene (C22H12) and ovalene.

PAH’s are used in some industries, such as in the manufacture of aluminium, steel, iron, some medicines, dyes, plastics and pesticides. However, the main source of PAH’s is the burning of wood, coal, oil and waste. PAH’s are given off by motor vehicles, are found in tobacco smoke, creosote and tar, and are even given off by volcanic eruptions!

It may be apparent that PAH’s are therefore widespread and commonly encountered in both the workplace and in the world at large. Despite this, many PAH’s are associated with significant health risks and exposure to high level of PAH is something to be taken very seriously.

What are the Health Effects of PAH Exposure?

Many PAH’s are carcinogenic and exposure to PAH’s has long been associated with various cancers including skin, lung, bladder, liver, and stomach cancer. In fact, one of the earliest examples of work related disease in the historical record dates back to the 1700’s, when chimney sweeps began to develop cancer due to their exposure to PAH in chimney dust. PAH’s that are linked with cancer include benzo[a]pyrene, chrysene, benzo(b)flouranthene and others.

Studies have shown evidence that PAH’s are also linked with birth defects in children. Mothers exposed to PAH are said to be more likely to give birth to children prematurely or suffering from low birth weight, heart defects, impaired IQ and childhood asthma.

PAH is also linked with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and research indicates that some PAH’s may affect the nervous system. Symptoms like nausea, poor concentration, breathing problems and chest pains.

How do Exposures to PAH’s Happen?

Harmful exposure to PAH’s is most frequent within the working environment. Usually, exposure is chronic, which means it is to small amounts of PAH over long periods of time. This sort of exposure can be very hard to identify but should be taken seriously when it is recognised. Sometimes workers experience acute exposures to a large amount of PAH at once and suffer from PAH poisoning. There are regulations in place that require employers to provide a safe workplace as far as is possible and to give proper training to employees who are at risk of PAH exposure. Employers have a duty to provide proper personal protective equipment such as filtration masks, goggles and other articles of clothing. Sadly, the regulations are not always followed properly and so harmful PAH exposure does happen in the workplace. If it does, then employees may well have a claim.

Members of the public can also be exposed to dangerous levels of PAH. While PAH is in some cases naturally occurring, that does not mean that the risk it poses to human health can be dismissed. Additionally, PAH’s of various kinds were and are associated with industrial processes, and before proper regulations were put in place waste from factories and other sites would include dangerous levels of PAH. If deposits of PAH like this are not identified and cleaned up properly, there is a risk that parks and gardens will be contaminated and left in a harmful state. If you are exposed by contaminated land in this way you might have a claim.

PAH contaminated land is not only a threat to health, it can have a serious impact upon the resale value of any homes built upon it if it is not dealt with properly.

What Can I Do if Exposed to PAH?

If you are exposed to PAH, call our litigation team for specialist PAH exposure advice.

If you are exposed in the workplace, and your employer did not provide the proper equipment or take the proper steps to minimise the risk of your exposure, you may have a claim.

If you were exposed to PAH as a member of the public, then you may have a claim against whoever spilled or dumped the PAH you came into contact with.

If you are exposed to PAH on your property as a result of spillages from former industrial processes or are concerned about contaminated land or potentially contaminated land being a risk to your health, there may be a claim against those responsible for depositing the PAH on the land. Additionally, there may be a claim against those who failed to adequately identify and prevent harm to members of the public during the redevelopment of potentially contaminated land.

Personal injury cases have strict time limits of three years from the date of injury, although in some circumstances this three years can begin from the date of knowledge of the injury and the negligence associated with it. If you believe you have been exposed to PAH you should act promptly and take legal advice.

Collins Solicitors has decades of experience in cases of toxic exposure both in the workplace and because of contaminated land. Our expert litigation team can assist you in assessing whether you have a claim. Please call us on 01923 223 324 or 0800 731 5821. Alternatively contact us by email at charkness@collinslaw.co.uk.