Chrysene is one of the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) compounds. Because it is formed
when gasoline, garbage, or any animal or plant material burns, it is usually found in smoke and
soot. This chemical combines with dust particles in the air and is carried into water and soil and
onto crops. Chrysene is found in the coal tar pitch that industry uses to join electrical parts. It is
also found in creosote, a chemical used to preserve wood.
People may be exposed to chrysene from environmental sources such as air, water, and soil and
from cigarette smoke and cooked food. Workers who handle or are involved in the manufacture
of PAH-containing materials may also be exposed to chrysene. Typically, exposure for workers
and the general population is not to chrysene along but to a mixture of similar chemicals.
The general population may be exposed to dust, soil, and other particles that contain chrysene.
The largest sources of chrysene in the air are open burning and home heating with wood and coal.
Factories that produce coal tar also contribute small amounts of chrysene to the air. People may
come in contact with chrysene from soil on or near hazardous waste sites, such as former
gas-manufacturing sites or abandoned wood-treatment plants that used creosote. The soil near
where coal, wood, or other products have been burned is another source of exposure. Exposure
to chrysene and other PAHs may also occur through skin contact with products that contain
PAHs such as creosote-treated wood, asphalt roads, or coal tar.
People may be exposed to chrysene by drinking water from the drinking water supplies in the U.S.
that have been found to contain low levels of the chemical. Foods grown in contaminated soil or
air may contain chrysene. Cooking food at high temperatures, as occurs during charcoal grilling
or charring, can increase the amount of chrysene in the food. Chrysene has been found in cereals,
vegetables, fruits, meats, beverages, and in cigarette smoke.
The greatest exposure to chrysene is likely to take place in the workplace. People who work in
coal tar production plants; coking plants; asphalt production plants; coal-gasification sites; smoke
houses; municipal trash incinerators; and facilities that burn wood, coal, or oil may be exposed to
chrysene in the workplace air. Chrysene may also be found in areas where high-temperature food
fryers and broilers are used.
The most common way chrysene enters the body is through the lungs when a person breathes in
air or smoke containing it. It also enters the body through the digestive system when substances
containing it are swallowed. Although chrysene does not normally enter the body through the
skin, small amounts could enter if contact occurs with soil that contains high levels of chrysene
(for example, near a hazardous waste site) or if contact is made with heavy oils containing
Chrysene causes cancer in laboratory animals when applied to their skin. This finding suggests
that it is likely that people exposed in the same manner could also develop cancer. Because
studies of chrysene are not complete, we don't know if chrysene that is breathed in or swallowed
could cause cancer or if it can cause harmful effects other than cancer.
Information excerpted from
Toxicological Profile for Chrysene March 1990
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
United States Public Health Service