Exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds among recently pregnant rural Guatemalan women cooking and heating with solid fuels.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


Household air pollution is a major contributor to death and disability worldwide. Over 95% of rural Guatemalan households use woodstoves for cooking or heating. Woodsmoke contains carcinogenic or fetotoxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Increased PAHs and VOCs have been shown to increase levels of oxidative stress.


We examined PAH and VOC exposures among recently pregnant rural Guatemalan women exposed to woodsmoke and compared exposures to levels seen occupationally or among smokers.


Urine was collected from 23 women who were 3 months post-partum three times over 72h: morning (fasting), after lunch, and following dinner or use of wood-fired traditional sauna baths (samples=68). Creatinine-adjusted urinary concentrations of metabolites of four PAHs and eight VOCs were analyzed by liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. Creatinine-adjusted urinary biomarkers of oxidative stress, 8-isoprostane and 8-OHdG, were analyzed using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA). Long-term (pregnancy through 3 months prenatal) exposure to particulate matter and airborne PAHs were measured.


Women using wood-fueled chimney stoves are exposed to high levels of particulate matter (median 48h PM2.5 105.7μg/m3 ; inter-quartile range (IQR): 77.6-130.4). Urinary PAH and VOC metabolites were significantly associated with woodsmoke exposures: 2-naphthol (median (IQR) in ng/mg creatinine: 295.9 (74.4-430.9) after sauna versus 23.9 (17.1-49.5) fasting; and acrolein: 571.7 (429.3-1040.7) after sauna versus 268.0 (178.3-398.6) fasting. Urinary PAH (total PAH: ρ=0.89, p<0.001) and VOC metabolites of benzene (ρ=0.80, p<0.001) and acrylonitrile (ρ=0.59, p<0.05) were strongly correlated with long-term exposure to particulate matter. However urinary biomarkers of oxidative stress were not correlated with particulate matter (ρ=0.01 to 0.05, p>0.85) or PAH and VOC biomarkers (ρ=-0.20 to 0.38, p>0.07). Urinary metabolite concentrations were significantly greater than those of heavy smokers (mean cigarettes/day=18) across all PAHs. In 15 (65%) women, maximum 1-hydroxypyrene concentrations exceeded the occupational exposure limit of coke-oven workers.


The high concentrations of urinary PAH and VOC metabolites among recently pregnant women is alarming given the detrimental fetal and neonatal effects of prenatal PAH exposure. As most women used chimney woodstoves, cleaner fuels are critically needed to reduce smoke exposure.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Weinstein, JR; Asteria-Peñaloza, R; Diaz-Artiga, A; Davila, G; Hammond, SK; Ryde, IT; Meyer, JN; Benowitz, N; Thompson, LM

Published Date

  • June 2017

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 220 / 4

Start / End Page

  • 726 - 735

PubMed ID

  • 28320639

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC5474125

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1618-131X

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1438-4639

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.ijheh.2017.03.002


  • eng