"pro" asphalt plant arguments


There are various web sites that, while noting the hazards from hot asphalt, consider the overall risk as manageable if reliable safeguards are put in place. They are presented here for balance of presentation in this web site, and to provide links to follow. These reports are from consultants, and sometimes government agencies. Neither are immune from bias (as indeed the con case could be in the other direction). Generally state agencies and "alliances" of asphalt associations tend to more conservative in their analyses than university and non agency studies.The challenge of the Kunda Park neighbours will be to divine the facts, and real health risks, in the short and long term, for adults and children, from all the "pro" and "con" reports. This will be some challenge when epidemiological data from hot asphalt for children are generally lacking.

Asphalt Fumes

Asphalt is used for paving roads and for roofing. It consists of gravel, sand, or stone that is bound together with a cement made from crude oil. The ingredients are mixed at high temperatures and kept heated until the asphalt is applied to road or roof surfaces. Fumes are generated due to the heating of the mixture. Components in the crude oil called petroleum hydrocarbons form a gas that condenses into fine particles upon cooling. Persons can be exposed to these fine particles and petroleum hydrocarbon vapor. This fact sheet will answer some general questions about asphalt fumes.

What chemicals are in asphalt fumes?

The chemicals in asphalt can vary depending on the source of the crude oil, the type of asphalt being made, and the process used. In general, the fumes are a mixture of several different types of chemicals including

  • volatile organic chemicals (VOCs),
  • carbon monoxide,
  • sulfur,
  • nitrogen oxides, and
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Many of these chemicals also are emitted by other combustion sources such as cars and trucks, fireplaces and wood stoves, wildfires, and industries. All of these chemicals are often found in outdoor air at low levels; however, elevated levels of these chemicals may be found near an operating asphalt plant.

What are the health effects of asphalt fume exposure?

The health effects that can be caused by exposure to asphalt fumes depend on –

  • how much has entered the body,
  • how long you are exposed to asphalt fumes, and
  • how the body responds to asphalt fumes.

People who work in asphalt plants would have the greatest exposure to asphalt fumes. Some of the symptoms reported by workers include irritation of the upper respiratory tract, headache, fatigue, wheezing, shortness of breath, dizziness, and nausea. These symptoms are from short-term exposure to high levels of asphalt fumes and are typically mild and rapidly reversible once exposure ends. Asphalt fumes contain several chemicals that may cause cancer. Asphalt workers have the greatest long-term exposure to these fumes, yet studies of cancer in asphalt workers are not conclusive.

Residents living near an asphalt plant would be more likely to breathe low levels of asphalt fumes for a long period of time. In a residential setting, exposure to asphalt fumes would depend on the plant emissions and the prevailing winds. Based on sampling conducted near asphalt plants in other states, residents could experience irritation from the odors from asphalt production, but the potential for adverse health effects is expected to be very low. Young children receive greater exposures on a body weight basis and may be more sensitive than adults to certain chemicals. No studies have been identified that link residential exposure to asphalt fumes with the development of cancer.

Can odors from the plant cause adverse health effects?

Petroleum-related odors can come from many sources in the community including gas stations, auto shops, and vehicle exhaust. If you smell odors from an asphalt plant, they are not necessarily at levels that would cause adverse health effects. Many highly-odorous chemicals in asphalt fumes are easy to detect near the plant; however, many chemicals can be smelled at levels below those expected to cause adverse health effects. Persistent odors may cause health symptoms in some people.

Does living near an asphalt plant pose an increased health hazard?

An asphalt plant must meet emission criteria to receive an operating permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. If the permit criteria are met, emissions would not be expected to pose a public health hazard. Asphalt plant emissions may lead to odors in the community, but the potential for adverse health effects is expected to be low.

Where can I get more information?

Illinois Department of Public Health
Division of Environmental Health
525 W. Jefferson St.
Springfield, IL 62761
TYY (hearing impaired use only) 800-547-0466

This fact sheet was supported in part by funds from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act trust fund through a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

idph online home
Environmental Health Home

Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
Questions or Comments



A recent meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies of roofers indicates an excess of lung cancer among roofers, but it is uncertain whether this excess is related to asphalt and/or to carcinogens such as coal tar or asbestos. Data from studies in animals and in vitro assays indicate that laboratory-generated roofing asphalt fume condensates are genotoxic and produce skin tumors in mice. Known carcinogenic PAHs have been identified in roofing asphalt fumes.

Data from studies in humans indicate that some workers exposed to asphalt fumes are at an elevated risk of lung cancer; however, it is uncertain whether this excess is related to asphalt and/or other carcinogens in the workplace.

A typical batch mix plant using a No. 2 fuel oil-fired dryer emits over 74,000 lb/yr of criteria pollutants, and a typical batch mix plant using a natural gas-fired dryer emits over 56,000 lb/yr of criteria pollutants, of which approximately 41,000 lb/yr are CO and approximately10,700 lb/yr are PM-10; emissions of other criteria pollutants range from about 500 to about 12,000 lb/yr.
The same plant would emit about 770 lb/yr of HAPs. A typical drum mix plant using a No. 2 fuel oil-fired
dryer emits about 83,000 lb/yr of criteria pollutants, and a typical drum mix plant using a natural gas-fired
dryer emits around 75,000 lb/yr of criteria pollutants, of which approximately 28,000 lb/yr are CO, about
10,000 lb/yr are VOC, and around 31,000 lb/yr are PM-10. A typical drum mix plant emits from 1,300 to
2,000 lb/yr of HAPs, depending on the fuel used in the dryer.