Occupational Health Risks in Road Paving

Last fall, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) issued a statement assigning occupational exposures to straight-run asphalt cement and its emissions during road paving as "possibly carcinogenic to humans." This classification puts asphalt road paving in the same category as numerous exposures, including cell phones and coffee.

During NAPA's recent annual meeting in Palm Desert, CA, a session was held discussing the IARC classification. "The asphalt paving industry has always taken questions about workers' health and safety seriously," said Mike Acott, NAPA president, during the session. "Our goal has always been, first and foremost, to protect the workers by reducing their exposure."

But should you be concerned? I know I don't like to hear that some behavior I'm committing is increasing my risk of cancer. What if that behavior is standing on the back of a paver all day, and you can't easily prevent it because it's your job?

"People working in the asphalt paving industry should not be concerned about this new IARC classification," said Dr. Jim Melius, DrPH, MD, the top occupational physician at the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA). "The two key animal studies on paving asphalt did not show any evidence of cancer risk, and the major IARC cancer study of people working in the paving industry in Europe did not show any increased risk for cancer."

Acott added, "IARC's own eight-country study showed no link between exposure to asphalt paving fumes and cancer in paving workers. An animal inhalation study in Europe found no link between asphalt paving fumes and cancer. And an animal skin painting study in the U.S. found no link between asphalt paving fumes and cancer."

While that's great news for asphalt contractors, how do you handle a concerned employee, loved one or reporter who is curious about the cancer risks in asphalt paving?

It's important to craft an effective message, says Michael Mangum with Mangum Asphalt Services. "Your message should include the fact that everyone in our industry wants a safe working environment," he said during his presentation. "Over the last decade, the industry has worked to engineer machine controls and increased the use warm mix asphalt to ensure that workers' exposures are low."

"The bottom line is many studies have been performed," says Mangum. "At least three have been performed on fumes from asphalt paving. All three studies have shown no cancer."

For more information on IARC and its classification, visit NAPA's website.

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