Abstract Air pollution from coal combustion is of great concern in China because coal is the country's principal source of energy and it has been estimated that coal combustion is one of the main sources of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) emissions in the nation. This study reports the concentrations of 15 PAHs including benzo[a]pyrene, dibenzo[a,l]pyrene, dibenzo[a,e]pyrene, dibenzo[a,i]pyrene and dibenzo[a,h]pyrene in a coal fly ash certified reference material (CRM) from China. To the best of our knowledge, dibenzo[a,l]pyrene, dibenzo[a,i]pyrene and dibenzo[a,h]pyrene concentrations in coal fly ash particles have not previously been reported. Benzo[a]pyrene is the only one of the studied hydrocarbons whose concentration in the coal fly ash CRM had previously been certified. The concentration of this species measured in this present work was twice the certified value. This is probably because of the exhaustive accelerated solvent extraction method employed. Consecutive extractions indicated an extraction recovery in excess of 95% for benzo[a]pyrene. For the other determined PAHs, repeat extractions indicated recoveries above 90%.