Asphalt fumes are fumes generated from the heat dried mixture of bitumen, aggregate and sand.
Most times, we use both asphalt and bitumen interchangeably; which is wrong.
Bitumen is actually a liquid binder which holds the asphalt together, while asphalt is a composition of aggregate, sand and bitumen exposed to heating and drying in a plant (Asphalt plant).
Asphalt is used majorly for paving roads. According to OSHA, over half a million workers are exposed to fumes from asphalt. Research has it that exposure to asphalt fumes could exhibit various symptoms.
These symptoms could be exhibited either in acute exposure or chronic exposure.
Symptoms of exposure to asphalt fumes
- Skin rash
- Reduced appetite
- Throat irritation
- Eye irritation
- Severe burns
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and vomiting
- Skin cancer
- Loss of skin pigment which could be worsened by sunlight.
Both skin cancer and loss of skin pigment could result from chronic exposure to the asphalt fumes.
According to NIOSH, the exposure limit of exposure to asphalt fumes should not exceed 5mg/m3 in any 15minute period and 0.5mg/m3 over 8hours exposure.
Safety precautions when exposed to asphalt fumes
- Do not eat or smoke while working with asphalt. Note that smoking worsens the effect of exposure to asphalt fumes.
- Use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) like coverall or long sleeves clothing, Hand gloves, Eye goggle, Hard hat, Safety boot, etc.
- Avoid body contact with asphalt
- While working with asphalt with tendency of getting exposed to the fumes, it is necessary that we should work against the direction of the wind. This will ensure that the fumes is blown away from you.
- Welfare facilities should be provided which will include washing and changing point.
- There should be routine medical checks for workers exposed to asphalt fumes. One medical check that is recommended is the lungs function test, eye test, haematological parameters, etc.
- As far as reasonably practicable, people exposed to the fumes from asphalt should avoid exposure to direct sunlight. Coverall or long sleeves shirts are highly recommended.