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Published on Jul 27, 2016
Asphalt as it is referred to in the United States or bitumen, as it is called in many other parts of the world, is found in natural deposits or can be obtained by refining crude oil. The primary use of asphalt is for road construction where it is mixed with aggregate particles. It is also commonly used to seal flat roofs and in waterproofing products such as roof felt and shingles.
According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), over a half-million workers are exposed to fumes from asphalt. Health effects from exposure to asphalt fumes include headache, skin rash, sensitization, fatigue, reduced appetite, throat and eye irritation, cough and skin cancer. The agency goes on to state that exposure to asphalt fumes can cause serious injury and permanent damage and that workers that may be exposed to asphalt fumes need to be aware of the potential hazards in their work environment.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that the complex chemical composition of asphalt makes it difficult to identify the specific component(s) responsible for adverse health effects observed in exposed workers. Known carcinogens have been found in asphalt fumes generated at work sites. Observations of acute irritation in workers from airborne and dermal exposures to asphalt fumes and aerosols and the potential for chronic health effects, including cancer, warrant continued diligence in the control of exposures. NIOSH also reports that asphalt fumes generated at high temperatures are probably more likely to generate carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) than fumes generated at lower temperatures.
Today, OSHA does not have a standard for asphalt fumes although it proposed a permissible exposure limit (PEL) in 1992. Controlling exposures to asphalt fumes can be done through such functions as engineering controls, administrative actions and personal protective equipment (PPE).
These are just a few things to know about occupational exposure concerns to asphalt fumes. To learn more about this or other air quality, health and safety, occupational or environmental issues, please visit the websites shown below.