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Parsing pyrogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: Forensic chemistry, receptor models, and source control policy



A realistic understanding of contaminant sources is required to set appropriate control policy. Forensic chemical methods can be powerful tools in source characterization and identification, but they require a multiple-lines-of-evidence approach. Atmospheric receptor models, such as the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA)'s chemical mass balance (CMB), are increasingly being used to evaluate sources of pyrogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in sediments. This paper describes the assumptions underlying receptor models and discusses challenges in complying with these assumptions in practice. Given the variability within, and the similarity among, pyrogenic PAH source types, model outputs are sensitive to specific inputs, and parsing among some source types may not be possible. Although still useful for identifying potential sources, the technical specialist applying these methods must describe both the results and their inherent uncertainties in a way that is understandable to nontechnical policy makers. The authors present an example case study concerning an investigation of a class of parking-lot sealers as a significant source of PAHs in urban sediment. Principal component analysis is used to evaluate published CMB model inputs and outputs. Targeted analyses of 2 areas where bans have been implemented are included. The results do not support the claim that parking-lot sealers are a significant source of PAHs in urban sediments. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2014;10:279–285. © 2013 SETAC