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New NIOSH Asphalt Report Notes Needs for Studies, Way to Minimize Exposures

NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 401-3749
January 8, 2001

A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reviews current scientific data on health effects related to occupational exposures to asphalt, describes further research needs in this area, and suggests measures to minimize worker exposures while studies continue.

The new report, “Hazard Review: Health Effects of Occupational Exposure to Asphalt,” DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2001-110, is part of NIOSH’s ongoing work with diverse outside partners to explore the complex questions pertaining to job-related asphalt exposures and health effects, and to develop practical and effective exposure controls based on known data.

Current research findings support a NIOSH assessment from 1977 that exposure to asphalt fumes is associated with eye, nose, and throat irritation, according to the report. Recent studies also have found evidence of lower respiratory tract symptoms among workers exposed to asphalt fumes. Those data are being further analyzed to assess the relationship between symptoms and exposures.

The new report also discusses studies that associate asphalt exposure with potential long-term health effects, such as chronic bronchitis and lung cancer. The report reviews data from those studies that relate to potential long-term effects under different conditions of use, including exposures from paving, roofing, and asphalt-based paint formulations.

Additional studies are needed to better characterize occupational exposures to asphalt fumes, vapors, and aerosols, and to further evaluate the risk of chronic disease, including lung cancer. In the meantime, NIOSH recommends that possible health effects from exposures to asphalt, asphalt fumes and vapors, and asphalt-based paints be minimized.. Exposures can be minimized, the report suggests, by adhering to NIOSH’s current recommended exposure limit of 5 milligrams of asphalt per cubic meter of air over any 15-minute period, and by:

  • Preventing skin exposure.
  • Keeping the application temperature of heated asphalt as low as possible.
  • Using engineering controls and good work practices at all work sites to minimize worker exposure to asphalt fumes and asphalt-based paint aerosols.
  • Using appropriate respiratory protection for workers.

NIOSH, industry, and labor have been working together to reduce worker exposures to paving and roofing asphalt fumes. In 1997, a joint effort by NIOSH, the asphalt paving industry, labor, and other federal agencies resulted in the development and adoption of new controls that have significantly reduced worker exposures to asphalt fumes on new highway-class paving machines. The partnership was named as a finalist for the prestigious Innovations in American Government award in 1998.

NIOSH and its partners also have furthered collaborative laboratory and field research, and have worked together to develop informational materials for workers and contractors on methods for reducing exposures. In September 2000, representatives of industry, labor, government, and academia met to discuss research needed to assess completely the health risks associated with exposure to asphalt.

Copies of “Health Effects of Occupational Exposure to Asphalt,” DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2001-110, are available by calling the toll-free NIOSH information number, 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674). The report is also available, along with other information about NIOSH research, on the NIOSH site.