• Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons;
  • Storm water;
  • First flush;
  • Source identification


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are carcinogenic and mutagenic compounds, ubiquitous in the air and water of urban environments, and have been shown to accumulate in coastal estuarine and marine sediments. Although previous studies have documented concentrations and loads of PAHs in urban runoff, little is known about the sources and temporal patterns of PAH loading from storm water. This study characterized the sources and temporal patterns of PAHs in urban storm water by analyzing PAH concentrations and loads from a range of homogeneous land use sites and in-river mass emission sites throughout the greater Los Angeles, California, USA, region. Samples were collected at 30- to 60-min intervals over the course of a storm during multiple storm events over a four-year period in order to investigate PAH sources and inter- and intrastorm patterns in loading. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon storm fluxes ranged from 1.3 g/km2 for the largely undeveloped Arroyo Sequit watershed to 223.7 g/km2 for the highly urbanized Verdugo Wash watershed, with average storm fluxes being 46 times higher in developed versus undeveloped watersheds. Early-season storms repeatedly produced substantially higher loads than comparably sized late-season storms. Within individual storms, PAHs exhibited a moderate first flush with between 30 and 60% of the total PAH load being discharged in the first 20% of the storm volume. The relative distribution of individual PAHs demonstrated a consistent predominance of high-molecular-weight compounds indicative of pyrogenic sources.