Bitumen fumes and PAHs in asphalt road paving: Emission characteristics, determinants of exposure and environmental impact


Background: Asphalt road paving and its subsequent complex airborne emissions have raised concerns about occupational exposures and environmental impacts. Although several studies described bitumen fumes or Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) emissions at specific worksites, no comprehensive studies have characterised road paving emissions and identified the main determinants of exposure.

Methods: A 10-year study from 2012 to 2022 was performed to examine the pollutants resulting from bitumen fume emissions and covering the main processes used in road paving (asphalt production, mechanical rolled asphalt paving, manual paving, mastic asphalt paving, emulsion paving, and coal-tar asphalt milling). A total of 623 air samples were collected at 63 worksites (on 290 workers, in the environment and near emission sources), and bitumen fumes, PAHs, aldehydes and volatile organic compounds were analysed. Biomonitoring campaigns were performed on 130 workers to assess internal exposure to PAHs.

Results: Fume emissions revealed complex mixtures of C10-C30 compounds, including linear saturated hydrocarbons (C6-C12), alicyclic hydrocarbons and aliphatic ketones. PAHs were dominated by 2-3 aromatic ring compounds (naphthalene, fluorene, and phenanthrene), and C1-C13 aldehydes were identified. Binder proportion, paving temperature, outdoor temperature, workload and job category influenced airborne concentrations. A significant temporal trend was observed over the time period of the study, with decreasing BF and PAH exposures. PAH biomonitoring was consistent with air samples, and urinary metabolites of 2-3 ring PAHs dominated over 4-5 ring PAHs. Occupational exposures were generally far lower than exposure limits, except coal-tar asphalt milling activities. Very low environmental concentrations were measured, which highlights a negligible contribution of paving emissions to global environmental pollution. Conclusion: The present study confirmed the complex nature of bitumen fumes and characterised the main determinants of exposure. The results highlight the need to reduce the paving temperature and binder proportion. Recycled asphalt pavement use was not associated with higher emissions. The impact of paving activities on environmental airborne pollution was deemed negligible.

Authors: Julie Germin-Aizac, Anne Maitre, Franck Balducci, Sarah Montlevier, Marie Marques, Justine Tribouiller, Christine Demeilliers, Renaud Persoons
; Full Source: Environmental research 2023 Apr 6;115824. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2023.115824.