There is an increasing concern about the occurrence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the environment as they are ubiquitous in ambient air and some of them are among the strongest known carcinogens. PAHs and their derivatives are produced by the incomplete combustion of organic material arising, partly, from natural combustion such as forest and volcanic eruption, but with the majority due to anthropogenic emissions. The PAH concentration varies significantly in various rural and urban environments and is mainly influenced by vehicular and domestic emissions. The review serves as a database to identify and characterize the emission sources of PAHs and hence various approaches including diagnostic ratio (DR) and principal component analysis (PCA) are discussed in detail. These approaches allow individual PAHs to be associated with their origin sources. The factors that effect PAH emission and estimated emission rate are also discussed in this paper. Although the levels of low molecular weight PAHs are high in vapor phase, most of the probable human carcinogenic PAHs are found to be associated with particulate matter, especially in fine mode particles in ambient air. Many countries have proposed a non-mandatory concentration limit for PAHs, whereas the health risk studies conducted in relation to PAH exposure, urge that these pollutants should be given a high priority when considering air quality management and reduction of impacts.