Respiratory symptoms and lung functional impairments associated with occupational exposure to asphalt fumes

Controversy exists as to the potential of asphalt fumes to induce respiratory symptoms and lung functional impairments. This study examined the respiratory effects, if any, of occupational inhalation exposure to asphalt fumes. In this cross-sectional study, 74 asphalt workers and 110 unexposed employees were investigated. The prevalence of respiratory symptoms among subjects was investigated by a standard questionnaire. Additionally, the parameters of pulmonary function were measured both, prior to exposure and at the end of work-shift. Furthermore, to assess the extent to which workers were exposed to asphalt fumes, total particulate and the benzene-soluble fraction were measured in different worksites. The mean levels of exposure to total particulate and benzene-soluble fraction in asphalt fumes were estimated to be 0.9 (SD 0.2) and 0.3 (SD 0.1) mg/m3, respectively. Mean values of FEV1, both prior to the exposure (89.58% [SD 18.69%] predicted value) and at the end of shift (85.38% [SD 19.4%]), were significantly (p<0.05) smaller than those of the comparison subjects (93.88% [SD 13.93%]). Similarly, pre-shift (87.05 [SD 8.57]) and post exposure (89.95 [SD 6.85]) FEV1/FVC ratio were both significantly (p<0.01) lower than those of the unexposed employees (107.56 [SD 9.64]). Moreover, the prevalence of respiratory symptoms such as cough and wheezing in exposed employees were 41% and 42%, respectively. The corresponding values for comparison subjects were 10.0% and 3.6%, respectively (p<0.001). The pattern of changes in parameters of lung function in asphalt workers was consistent with that of chronic obstructive lung disease. The authors concluded that significant decrements in the parameters of pulmonary function as well as, a significant increase in the prevalence of respiratory symptoms in asphalt paving workers compared to their unexposed counterparts provided evidence in favour of a significant association between exposure to asphalt fumes and lung function impairments. Authors: Neghab M, Zare Derisi F, Hassanzadeh J. ;Full Source: International Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine. 2015 Apr;6(2):113-21. ;