In this paper we show that oxygenated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (oxy-PAHs) are important cocontaminants that should be taken into account during risk assessment and remediation of sites with high levels of PAHs. The presented data, which have been collected both from our own research and the published literature, demonstrate that oxy-PAHs are abundant but neglected contaminants at these sites. The oxy-PAHs show relatively high persistency and because they are formed through transformation of PAHs, their concentrations in the environment may even increase as the sites are remediated by methods that promote PAH degradation. Furthermore, we show that oxy-PAHs are toxic to both humans and the environment, although the toxicity seems to be manifested through other effects than those known to be important for polycyclic aromatic compounds in general, that is, mutagenicity and carcinogenicity. Finally, we present data that support the hypothesis that oxy-PAHs are more mobile in the environment than PAHs, due to their polarity, and thus have a higher tendency to spread from contaminated sites via surface water and groundwater. We believe that oxy-PAHs should be included in monitoring programs at PAH-contaminated sites, even if a number of other toxicologically relevant compounds that may also be present, such as nitro-PAHs and azaarenes, are not monitored. This is because oxy-PAH levels are difficult to predict from the PAH levels, because their environmental behavior differs substantially from that of PAHs, and oxy-PAHs may be formed as PAHs are degraded.
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