Abstract Because garbage collectors work in the street, they are exposed to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in motor vehicle exhaust gas as they work. Urinary 1-hydroxypyrene (1-OH-pyrene) began to be used as a biological monitoring index for human exposure to high concentrations of PAHs. The objective of this study was to examine the applicability of urinary 1-OH-pyrene as a biological monitoring index for human low-level PAH exposure, such as the PAH exposure experienced while working in the street. The subjects were fifteen male garbage collectors. We measured individual exposure to PAHs, urinary 1-OH-pyrene concentrations and urinary cotinine concentrations. Individual air samplers were attached to the collar of the clothing of five workers to capture PAHs. Urine samples were collected before work, around noon and after finishing the day's work. In all, five PAH samples and 45 urine samples were collected. As control data, we analyzed the urinary 1-OH-pyrene and urinary cotinine levels of six smoking and four non-smoking control subjects who were not occupationally exposed to PAHs. The benzo[ a]pyrene level in the air sampled for 5–6 h was 2.5–10.5 ng/m 3, and the pyrene level was 10.3–70.3 ng/m 3. These levels were similar to those in the vicinity of streets in Japan. A positive correlation between total PAH levels and the pyrene levels was observed. The average urinary 1-OH-pyrene level of the smokers was 0.21 ± 0.13 μmol/mol creatinine, vs. 0.15 ± 0.11 μmol/mol creatinine in the non-smokers. The urinary 1-OH-pyrene level obtained in this study was slightly higher than in the control group. No correlation was found between pyrene exposure and the urinary 1-OH-pyrene level of the five workers who wore the personal samplers. A significant positive correlation was observed between the urinary 1-OH-pyrene level and urinary cotinine level of the smokers. A significant positive correlation was also observed between the urinary 1-OH-pyrene and urinary cotinine levels of the control group smokers. In conclusion, urinary 1-OH-pyrene is not applicable for biological monitoring of extremely low levels of exposure to PAHs, as in the case of working in the street. Caution is required to exclude the effects of smoking when evaluating PAH exposure.