As part of its mandate to "provide a safe and healthful workplace for working women and men," the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) critically evaluates the scientific data on potentially hazardous occupational exposures or work conditions and makes recommendations that address measures for minimizing the risk from the hazard. This document, Hazard Review: Health Effects of Occupational Exposures to Asphalt, is an evaluation of the health effects and other relevant data that have become available since publication of the 1977 NIOSH document Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Asphalt Fumes. It includes an assessment of chemistry, health, and exposure data from studies in animals and humans exposed to raw asphalt, paving and roofing asphalt fume condensates, and asphalt-based paints. Most important, the document serves as a basis for identifying future research to reduce occupational exposures to asphalt.
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 and its labor and industry partners are making great strides in reducing worker exposures to paving and roofing asphalt fumes. The partnership has succeeded because the partners set aside key differences to focus on the development of engineering and other control measures to reduce workplace exposures. A major success occurred when 100 percent of the asphalt paving industry voluntarily agreed to install new controls on all new highway pavers produced after July 1997— effectively reducing asphalt fume exposure. Other aspects of the partnership have encouraged collaborative laboratory and field research and the development of communication materials for workers and contractors on methods for reducing workplace exposures. Representatives of industry, labor, government, and academia met in Cincinnati, OH, on September 11 and 12, 2000, and identified research needed to assess completely the health risks associated with exposure to asphalt. Through these and other efforts of the partnership, effective workplace measures can be implemented to reduce worker exposure to asphalt fumes.
Linda Rosenstock, M.D., M.P.H.
Director, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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