- Research article
- Open Access
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in drinking water of Tehran, Iran
© karyab et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2013
Received: 25 August 2012
Accepted: 10 July 2013
Published: 5 August 2013
Distribution and seasonal variation of sixteen priority polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were investigated in the drinking water of Tehran, the capital of Iran. Detected single and total PAHs concentrations were in the range of 2.01-38.96 and 32.45-733.10 ng/L, respectively, which were quite high compared to the values recorded in other areas of the world. The average occurrence of PAHs with high molecular weights was 79.55%; for example, chrysene occurred in 60.6% of the samples, with a maximum concentration of 438.96 ng/L. In addition, mean carcinogen to non-carcinogen PAHs ratio was 63.84. Although the concentration of benzo[a]pyrene, as an indicator of water pollution to PAHs, was lower than the guideline value proposed by World Health Organization (WHO) as well as that of Iranian National Drinking Water Standards for all of the samples, the obtained results indicated that carcinogen PAHs present in the drinking water of Tehran can cause threats to human health.
Drinking water is one of the oldest public health issues and is associated with a multitude of health-related concerns. These concerns are derived into microbial and chemical pollutants, which are comprehensively presented in the international guidelines for drinking water quality . Because of their adverse effects on human and the environment, chemical pollutants, especially xenobiotic compounds, are of foremost importance. The presence of organic pollutants, including endocrine disruptors, organophosphorous pesticides, disinfection by-product precursors, trihalomethanes (THMs), and trichloroethylene (TCE) in water resources have been widely investigated by a large number of studies [2–5]. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a group of xenobiotic chemicals which are made up of carbon and hydrogen. They represent a group of contaminants with high melting and boiling points, low vapor pressure, and very low water solubility [6, 7]. In the environment, they are mostly derived from anthropogenic activities. However, they can also be released into the environment through natural incomplete combustion . PAHs are ubiquitous in the environment, which can be frequently found in food , air , soil , and sediments . Additionally, they can be detected in street dust , rain water , and urban runoffs . PAHs can reach water bodies mainly through dry and wet deposition, road runoff, industrial wastewater, leaching from creosote-impregnated wood, petroleum spills, and fossil fuel combustion [16–19]. They are generally teratogenic, carcinogenic, and mutagenic and may induce lung, bladder, as well as skin cancer. In addition, exposure to high levels of PAHs has been shown to produce immunosuppressive effects and is capable of causing oxidative stress during its metabolism [20–22]. The main objective of the present study was to investigate the distribution and seasonal variation of sixteen PAHs, as priority pollutants recognized by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in the drinking water of Tehran, the capital of Iran.
Materials and methods
Based on drinking water supply, Tehran was divided into six districts. Four water samples were collected from each district in each season over the period from July 2011 to May 2012 (i.e. a total of 99 samples). In order to prevent unwanted reactions, samples were collected in 1000 mL amber glass bottles with Teflon lined tops. Each sample was stored in a cooler at 4°C while being transported to the laboratory. Standard solutions of sixteen PAHs (10 mg/L in acetonitrile), including naphthalene (Nap), acenaphthylene (Acy), acenaphthene (Ace), fluorene (Fl), phenanthrene (Phe), anthracene (Ant), fluoranthene (Flu), pyrene (Pyr), benzo[a]anthracene (BaA), chrysene (Chy), benzo[a]pyrene (BaP), benzo[b]fluoranthene (BbF), benzo[k]fluoranthene (BkF), dibenzo[a,h]anthracene (DahA), indeno[1,2,3-cd]pyrene (IcdP), and benzo[g,h,i]perylene (BghiP) were purchased from Supelco Company, USA. C18 extraction cartridge was purchased from Chromaband (Manchery-Nagel, Germany). A solid-phase extraction (SPE) vacuum manifold was used for concentration and purification of solvent extracts. In addition, cyclohexane, acetone, biphenyl, and methanol were of analytical-reagent grade (Merck, Germany).
Water samples were extracted using a solid phase extraction (SPE) system according to the established procedures . The applied extraction method was suitable for the extraction of a wide range of analytes, as elaborated in the EPA methods 3535A . To avoid adsorption of PAHs upon glassware, 5 ml of methanol was added to the samples. The solution was mixed after adding 1 μL biphenyl to methanol (1 μg/L, as internal standard). Prior to extraction, the SPE cartridge was conditioned with 5 ml of methanol under vacuum conditions, followed by 5 ml of ultra pure water. 1000 ml of the water sample was passed through the cartridge at a flow rate of 20 ml/min. After percolating all samples through the cartridge and drying the wall of the separating funnel, the cartridge was centrifuged at 2500 rpm for 10 min to remove the residential water. Then, the cartridge was dried with an air stream for 10 min, which was followed by adding 200 ml of acetone to vapor residual water. The elution was performed with 5 ml cyclohexane. The extract was dried under a gentle stream of nitrogen at 40°C. The extract was raised into the micro vial (100 micro liters) and preserved in the refrigerator until being injected into the GC/MS instrument. The PAHs extracts were analyzed by using a 3800 Varian gas chromatography coupled to a Varian Saturn 2200 mass spectrometer, equipped with a 30 m × 0.25 mm i.d. WCOT CP-Sil 8 CB column. The GC/MS operated under the following conditions: the initial column temperature was 70°C. After an initial holding time of 1 min, the temperature was programmed to rise to 300°C at a rate of 10°C/min for 30 min. The injector and detector temperatures were 250°C and 300°C, respectively. Helium was used as the carrier gas at a flow rate of 2 ml/min. Method was according to the established procedure by Li et al. (2001) and the EPA method 8270D [23, 24]. PAHs concentrations were identified based on their retention times and confirmed by comparing their mass spectra with the reference library. Calibration curves were plotted at seven concentration levels from 2 to 2000 ng/L with standard solutions containing all studied PAHs. Detection limit (DL) for individual PAHs, with a signal to noise ratio of 3, ranged from 0.8 to 2 ng/L. Concentrations that were below the DLs were assigned as not determined; in such cases, half of the DL value for that substance was considered for the calculations.
Results and discussions
Method parameters and analytical results for PAHs components
Selected ions for mass spectrometry quantification
Mean recovery (%)
Annually means concentrations of sixteen PAHs in distribution system (ng/L)
Occurrence single PAHs (%)
Occurrence in total detected PAHs (n,%)
Concentrations as BaP1
A broad range of the total PAHs concentrations, i.e. from 32.45 to 733.10 ng/L, was observed in different sampling points. The mean total PAHs concentration (85.07 ng/L) was comparable with that found in Helsinki, i.e. 150.3 ng/L, and Horsholm, i.e. 106.5 ng/L . However, it was lower than the concentrations detected in Kaoshing, i.e. 1452.9 ng/L , and Meet Faris, i.e. 1127 ng/L . Badawy and Emababy evaluated PAHs distribution in the drinking water of four cities in Egypt and found that total PAHs fluctuated in the range of 703–1238 ng/L, which 80% belonged to 4-, 5-, and 6-ring PAHs. Their latest results were consistent with those observed in the present study, which demonstrated that the contribution of HMW PAHs was 79.55%.
Toxic equivalency factor (TEF) was used to evaluate single PAHs concentrations as BaP equivalent. TEF is an estimate of the relative toxicity of a PAH compared to that of Bap . Results demonstrated that the mean PAHs concentration as BaP equivalent was in the range of 3.14-219.59 ng/L in the water samples. The carcinogenic PAHs concentration, including BaA, BbF, BkF, Chy, BaP, DBahA, and IcdP, which are probable human carcinogens according to the U.S. EPA (2002), were identified in the drinking water samples . Sum of carcinogen PAHs ranged from 6.00 to 575.00 ng/L in various seasons. The maximum concentration of carcinogen PAHs was observed in summer, which was similar to the results from the study of Kabzinski et al. (2002). Carcinogen to non-carcinogen PAHs ratios varied from 8.12 to 98.48%, with an average of 63.84%. Detected concentrations of BaP, a carcinogen PAHs, ranged between 4.28 to 10.77 ng/L in summer and autumn, which is lower than the guideline values proposed by WHO  as well as that of Iranian National Drinking Water Standards . However, in one sample, BaP concentration was recorded to be higher than the recommended value of European Union. The allowable level of PAHs in European Union’s drinking water standard is 10 ng/L for BaP and 100 ng/L for carcinogen PAHs . In addition, the concentrations of carcinogen PAHs in 12 samples were higher than European Union’s drinking water standards.
The first integrated investigation of PAHs in the drinking water of Tehran revealed that some individual HMW PAHs, such as Chy, BkF, and IcdP, are present in levels higher than that of European Union’s drinking water standard, whereas, the permissible level for PAHs in drinking water by WHO and Iranian National Drinking Water Standards is only set for BaP.
In the previous studies, several organic pollutants, including THMs and halo acetic acids, were identified in Tehran water sources [38–40]. Detection of PAHs in the present study shows that there are serious pollutants in water sources; it also indicates the inefficiency of water resources management in Tehran.
The PAH profiles in the distribution system were similar to those of surface water observed in Karaj river, which is the important source of drinking water for Tehran. The high PAHs concentrations in the summer may be the result of a high concentration of PAHs in water sources, which was observed in another part of this study (unpublished observations).
In all sampling points, the concentration of BaP in the drinking water was lower than 700 ng/L, as recommended by WHO  and Iranian National Drinking Water Standards . However, the concentrations of carcinogen PAHs in 12% of samples were higher than European Union’s drinking water standard, which forces that the total concentration of PAHs should not exceed 100 ng/L. In Table 3 results of detected PAHs is compared with national and international standards.
To protect drinking water sources as well as to prevent adverse effects on humans and biota, authors’ recommendations are as below:
Full protection of water sources, including suppression of commercial, residential, and recreational activities in the vicinity of rivers and dams;
To establish national as well as international standards for permissible levels of individual polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, especially carcinogen PAHs;
This study was part of a PhD dissertation supported by Tehran University of Medical Sciences (grant No: 90-02-27-14151).
- Fehr R, Mekel O, Lacombe M, Wolf U: Towards health impact assessment of drinking-water privatization-the example of waterborne carcinogens in North Rhine-Westphalia Germany). B World Health Organ 2003,81(6):408–414.Google Scholar
- Berryman D, Houde F, DeBlois C, O'Shea M: Nonylphenolic compounds in drinking and surface waters downstream of treated textile and pulp and paper effluents: a survey and preliminary assessment of their potential effects on public health and aquatic life. Chemosphere 2004,56(3):247–255. 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2004.02.030View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Dobaradaran S, Mahvi AH, Nabizadeh R, Mesdaghinia A, Naddafi K, Yunesian M, Rastkari N, Nazmara S: Hazardous organic compounds in groundwater near Tehran automobile industry. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 2010,85(5):530–533. 10.1007/s00128-010-0131-9View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Karyab H, Mahvi AH, Nazmara S, Bahojb A: Determination of water sources contamination to diazinon and malathion and spatial pollution patterns in Qazvin, Iran. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 2012,90(1):126–131.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Jafari AJ, Abasabad RP, Salehzadeh A: Endocrine disrupting contaminants in water resources and sewage in HAMADAN City of IRAN. Iran J Environ Health Sci Eng 2009,6(2):89–96.Google Scholar
- Mackay D, Shiu WY, Ma KC, Lee SC: Handbook of Environmental Physical-Chemical Properties and Environmental Fate for Organic Chemicals. 2nd edition. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC press, Taylor and Francis group; 2006.Google Scholar
- WHO Background document for development of WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality. In Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons in Drinking-water. Geneva: World Health Organization; http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/chemicals/polyaromahydrocarbons.pdf
- Olivella MA, Ribalta TG, de Febrer AR, Mollet JM, de Las Heras FX: Distribution of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in riverine waters after Mediterranean forest fires. Sci Total Environ 2006,355(1–3):156–166.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Martorell I, Perelló G, Martí-Cid R, Castell V, Llobet JM, Domingo JL: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in foods and estimated PAH intake by the population of Catalonia, Spain: temporal trend. Environ Int 2010,36(5):424–432. 10.1016/j.envint.2010.03.003View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Halek F, Nabi GH, Ganjidoust H, Keyanpour M, Mirmohammadi M: Particulate polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in urban air of Tehran. Iran J Environ Health Sci Eng 2006,3(3):247–254.Google Scholar
- Maliszewska-Kordybach B, Smreczak B, Klimkowicz-Pawlas A: Concentrations, sources, and spatial distribution of individual polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in agricultural soils in the Eastern part of the EU: Poland as a case study. Sci Total Environ 2009,407(12):3746–3753. 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2009.01.010View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Perra G, Pozo K, Guerranti C, Lazzeri D, Volpi V, Corsolini S, Focardi S: Levels and spatial distribution of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in superficial sediment from 15 Italian marine protected areas (MPA). Mar Pollut Bull 2011,62(4):874–877. 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2011.01.023View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Lorenzi D, Entwistle JA, Cave M, Dean JR: Determination of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in urban street dust: implications for human health. Chemosphere 2011,83(7):970–977. 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2011.02.020View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Olivella MÀ: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in rainwater and surface waters of Lake Maggiore, a subalpine lake in Northern Italy. Chemosphere 2006,63(1):116–131. 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2005.07.045View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Mahvi A, Mardani G: Determination of Phenanthrene in Urban Runoff of Tehran, Capital of Iran. Iran J Environ Health Sci Eng 2005, 2: 5–11.Google Scholar
- Ngabe B, Bidleman TF, Scott GI: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in storm runoff from urban and coastal South Carolina. Sci Total Environ 2000,255(1–3):1–9.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Park JS, Wade TL, Sweet ST: Atmospheric deposition of PAHs, PCBs, and organochlorine pesticides to Corpus Christi Bay, Texas. Atmos Environ 2002,36(10):1707–1720. 10.1016/S1352-2310(01)00586-6View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Vogelsang C, Grung M, Jantsch TG, Tollefsen KE, Liltved H: Occurrence and removal of selected organic micropollutants at mechanical, chemical and advanced wastewater treatment plants in Norway. Water Res 2006,40(19):3559–3570. 10.1016/j.watres.2006.07.022View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Vidal M, Domínguez J, Luís A: Spatial and temporal patterns of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in eggs of a coastal bird from northwestern Iberia after a major oil spill. Sci Total Environ 2011,409(13):2668–2673. 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.03.025View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- ATSDR Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In Toxicological Profile for Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). Altanta, GA: Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry; http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp.asp?id=122&tid=25
- Binková B, Šrám RJ: The genotoxic effect of carcinogenic PAHs, their artificial and environmental mixtures (EOM) on human diploid lung fibroblasts. Mutat Res-Fund Mol M 2004,547(1–2):109–121.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Singh VK, Patel DK, Jyoti , Ram S, Mathur N, Siddiqui MK: Blood levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in children and their association with oxidative stress indices: an Indian perspective. Clin Biochem 2008,41(3):152–161. 10.1016/j.clinbiochem.2007.11.017View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Li N, Lee HK: Solid-phase extraction of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in surface water: negative effect of humic acid. J Chromatogr A 2001,921(2):255–263. 10.1016/S0021-9673(01)00879-2View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- US.EPA Analytical Methods Approved for Drinking Water Compliance Monitoring. Drinking Water Analytical Methods http://www.epa.gov/ogwdw/methods/analyticalmethods_ogwdw.html
- Li B, Qu C, Bi J: Identification of trace organic pollutants in drinking water and the associated human health risks in Jiangsu Province, China. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 2012,88(6):880–884. 10.1007/s00128-012-0619-6View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Kabzinski AKM, Cyran J, Juszczak R: Determination of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in water (including drinking water) of Lodz. Pol J Environ Stud 2002,11(6):695–706.Google Scholar
- Manoli E, Samara C, Konstantinou I, Albanis T: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the bulk precipitation and surface waters of Northern Greece. Chemosphere 2000,41(12):1845–1855. 10.1016/S0045-6535(00)00134-XView ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Chen HW: Distribution and risk assessment of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in household drinking water. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 2007,78(3–4):201–205.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Badawy MI, Emababy MA: Distribution of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in drinking water in Egypt. Desalination 2010,251(1–3):34–40.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- USEPA: Polycyclic Organic Matter. Washington, DC: Environmental Protection Agency; 2002. http://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/hlthef/polycycl.html Google Scholar
- WHO: Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality. 4th edition. World Health Organization; 2011. http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2011/9789241548151_eng.pdf Google Scholar
- ISIRI 1053, 5th.revision, Institute of Standards and Industrial Research of Iran. Drinking water -Physical and chemical specifications 2010. http://www.isiri.org/Portal/File/ShowFile.aspx?ID=1af17a3d-649c-4ead-a8d3–7ffb480bfa41 Google Scholar
- European Communities: The quality of water intended for human consumption. Official Journal of the European Communities Council Directive 98/83/EC. http://www.fsai.ie/uploadedFiles/Legislation/Food_Legisation_Links/Water/EU_Directive_98_83_EC.pdf
- Merwade VM, Maidment DR, Goff JA: Anisotropic considerations while interpolating river channel bathymetry. J Hydrol 2006,331(3–4):731–741.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Stackelberg PE, Gibs J, Furlong ET, Meyer MT, Zaugg SD, Lippincott RL: Efficiency of conventional drinking-water-treatment processes in removal of pharmaceuticals and other organic compounds. Sci Total Environ 2007,377(2–3):255–272.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Deborde M, von Gunten U: Reactions of chlorine with inorganic and organic compounds during water treatment—Kinetics and mechanisms: a critical review. Water Res 2008,42(1–2):13–51.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Maier M, Maier D, Lloyd BJ: Factors influencing the mobilisation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from the coal-tar lining of water mains. Water Res 2000,34(3):773–786. 10.1016/S0043-1354(99)00230-4View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Zazouli MA, Nasseri S, Hazratilivari M: Chemical fractions of natural organic matter in two water treatment plants of Tehran and DBPS formation potential. Toxicol Lett 2009, 189: S136. SupplementView ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Pardakhti AR, Bidhendi GR, Torabian A, Karbassi A, Yunesian M: Comparative cancer risk assessment of THMs in drinking water from well water sources and surface water sources. Environ Monit Assess 2011,179(1–4):499–507.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Ghoochani M, Rastkari N, Nazmara S, Mahvi AH, Nabizadeh R: Survey of the Concentration of Halo Acetic Acids in Tehran Drinking Water: September 2011; 12th International conference on environmental science and technology. Rhodes, Greece; 2011. http://www.srcosmos.gr/srcosmos/showpub.aspx?aa=15045 Google Scholar
- Vilhunen S, Vilve M, Vepsäläinen M, Sillanpää M: Removal of organic matter from a variety of water matrices by UV photolysis and UV/H2O2 method. J Hazard Mater 2010,179(1–3):776–782.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
- Sankoda K, Nomiyama K, Yonehara T, Kuribayashi T, Shinohara R: Evidence for in situ production of chlorinated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons on tidal flats: environmental monitoring and laboratory scale experiment. Chemosphere 2012,88(5):542–547. 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2012.03.017View ArticleGoogle Scholar
This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.