A Brief History of PAHs in the Environment -and a Regulatory Headache

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are thought to account for about 20% of the carbon in the universe (see here, here, and here) and are considered building blocks of life. On Earth, PAHs occur in organic matter, including fossil organic matter (oil, coal), and are constantly being made when organic matter is heated or decays. They are also constantly being destroyed – eaten by microorganisms, degraded by the sun, other natural processes.

PAHs cause headaches for both regulators and the regulated. The headaches are rooted, in part, in history, so this post is a brief introduction to the history of PAHs in the environment, with an example of a regulatory headache exacerbated by government scientists who misrepresented historical data.

Generally speaking, no one makes PAHs on purpose – they are just part of the raw materials and byproducts of modern life. In addition to being present in oil and coal, PAHs are made in wood-burning fireplaces and stoves, in engine lubricants, in compost heaps, in decaying plants in a swamp… wherever organic matter is heated. Thus, humans are now and have, since fire was tamed, been exposed to PAHs. As one researcher put it: Continue reading

Is the Department of the Interior’s Scientific Integrity Office Protecting Scientific Integrity?

Posted by Anne LeHuray, March 16, 2015

Federal agencies disseminate vast quantities of information that is not subject to public notice or comment, but often has the effect of regulation. A good example is the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decades-long recommendation to reduce dietary salt for better health. For over 40 years, Americans struggled to reduce salt intake, only to learn in 2013, after a comprehensive review commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control that, in fact, there is no evidence that reducing salt improves health outcomes. Indeed, the review suggested that more salt in the diet might be a good thing. Continue reading