Environmental Indoor Air Quality Dangers in Asphalt Manufacturing

The main ingredient in asphalt production is petroleum. When crude oil is heated, benzene-containing fumes are released into the air

Asphalt is ubiquitous in our society. Road building, parking lot paving, and roofing, to name only a few professions, all rely on asphalt as the main construction material. Production facilities that manufacture asphalt are innumerable. So, too, are the numbers of employees who spend day after day laboring within those walls.

The main ingredient in asphalt production is petroleum. When crude oil is heated, benzene-containing fumes are released into the air. Because asphalt needs to be utilized in a fluid state, extremely high temperatures need to be maintained resulting in a constant release of benzene fumes into the air. Any individual working within close proximity to the heated product is at risk for occupational exposure.

The gases and fumes released during the asphalt manufacturing process can be troublesome out-of-doors. But inside an enclosed building structure, they are downright dangerous due to the natural lack of filtration and airflow. Dangerous chemicals, such as benzene, threaten worker safety if clean air measures are not rigorously employed.

Benzene is one of the most widely used compounds in the United States. It is a colorless, combustible fluid with a sweet-scent that evaporates quickly when emitted into the air. Though it is used as an additive to other chemicals for producing materials like plastics, rubbers, and dyes, it also an organic matter found naturally in petroleum and crude oil.

The health risks from benzene are not insignificant

Spending as little time as one hour in a fume-filled factory can cause effects from short-term (acute) benzene exposure. Even short-term exposure to fumes can cause reactions such as headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, and irritation to eyes and skin. It can also cause breathing difficulty and at high levels of exposure, unconsciousness.

But for those who work regularly in asphalt factories or production facilities, it is long-term (chronic) exposure that poses the greatest risk of serious illness. Chronic exposure – especially in occupational settings – can cause the same health problems that acute exposure produces plus blood disorders, fetal pregnancy risk, and cancer. Studies have proven that workers exposed to occupational benzene from as few as five years have caused death from leukemia. The EPA has classified benzene as a known human carcinogen for all routes of exposure.

But the fact that workers are in contact with products that contain benzene does not guarantee that occupational exposure – at least not dangerous levels of it – needs to be a concern. If clean air measures are employed – such as the use of fume extractors and/or mist collectors – asphalt-manufacturing plants can be perfectly safe places to work.

At AIRSInc, we serve our customers who work in all facilities that use or produce asphalt by providing indoor air quality management solutions in addition to stellar IAQ products. Our indoor environmental systems remove air impurities for the peace of mind of both the employee and business owner.

Call us today for a free air quality assessment with one of our skilled and experienced indoor environmental specialists.