People have used asphalt for decades as a means of paving roads, airport runways, paths and floors. It is even used under water to help control beach erosion. Though the Environmental Protection Agency has approved it, the carcinogenic and toxic compounds in asphalt have made it an environmental concern. Exposure to the chemicals that make up asphalt can cause adverse health effects in both humans and animals.
Effects on Ecosystems
Trace levels of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in asphalt fumes make it a potential environmental threat, particularly for delicate ecosystems. Even though the effects of decomposing asphalt within aquatic habitats remains inconclusive, its toxins and carcinogens may eventually leak into rivers, streams and other water sources. PAH compounds have been found in some water pipes.
Effects on Humans
One of the most common human exposures to asphalt is by inhalation. Throat and eye irritation, skin rash, fatigue, headache and cough are some of the acute, or immediate, effects of breathing in asphalt fumes. Chronic exposure of inhaled asphalt fumes may lead to lung or stomach cancer. Prolonged exposure of fumes to the skin may cause a pigment change made more noticeable by exposure to sunlight. Research conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health shows that products containing asphalt are carcinogenic to laboratory animals. The organization therefore urges humans to limit their exposure to asphalt.
Certain types of asphalt can be highly flammable and lead to explosions or fires, especially when hot. Cigarettes, sparks and flames can act to ignite stray fumes. Burns are common occupational injuries sustained where hot asphalt is used.
National parks have been documented to contain high concentrations of PAHs in the air following asphalt-paved roads being burned by forest fires or lava flows. In aquatic environments, asphalt appears as a dark, tarry substance and sinks to the bottom of a body of water.
Asphalt Plant Pollution
An EPA assessment on hot mix asphalt facilities reveals that these plants emit 770-2,000 hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) each year. HAPs, also called toxic air pollutants or air toxics, include PAHs. Asphalt processing and roofing facilities may be responsible for some air pollutants such as hexane, phenol and formaldehyde. According to one of two studies conducted by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, property value for residential homes near asphalt plants have reported losses of up to 56 percent. Of those residents, 45 percent reported via survey that they experienced deteriorating health conditions after the asphalt plant opened. Health conditions reported include high blood pressure, sinus problems, shortness of breath and headaches.
- Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images
How Does Salinity Impact Oceans Currents?
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as much as 71 percent---nearly three-quarters---of all the earth's surface is covered by the...
How to Melt the Ice on a Blacktop Driveway
When ice forms on driving and walking surfaces, it presents a potential hazard. Instead of waiting for the ice to melt from...
How to Install Corrugated Polycarbonate Sheets
Corrugated polycarbonate sheeting keeps outside weather from coming in a building while still allowing natural light to flow into the building. The...
Breathing in Fumes of Creosote
The UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program indicates that asphalt workers, railroad workers and coal workers are at risk for creosote...
Cold Mix Asphalt Paving Specifications
Cold Mix Asphalt Paving Specifications. Cold mix asphalt is used as a road patch and crack filling material. It offers advantages over...
How to Lay an Asphalt Driveway
An asphalt driveway added to your property provides an important functionality, but it can also add value to your home and enhance...
How to Get Gas Stains Off of an Asphalt Drive
Your asphalt driveway can be a little more sensitive than you might think. If you use inappropriate cleaning methods, for example, you...