According to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, exposure to asphalt fumes can cause headaches, skin rashes, fatigue, reduced appetite, throat and eye irritation, and coughing. Asphalt paving workers, for example, have reported breathing problems, asthma, bronchitis, and skin irritation, according to OSHA, and studies have reported lung, stomach, and skin cancers following chronic exposures to asphalt fumes.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health: asphalt fumes are considered potential occupational carcinogens.
Asphalt plants mix gravel and sand with crude oil derivatives to make the asphalt used to pave roads, highways, and parking lots across the country. These plants release millions of pounds of chemicals to the air during production each year, including many cancer-causing toxic air pollutants such as arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde, and cadmium. Other toxic chemicals are released into the air as the asphalt is loaded into trucks and hauled from the plant site, including volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and very fine condensed particulates.[EPA]
Asphalt Fumes are Known Toxins. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states "Asphalt processing and asphalt roofing manufacturing facilities are major sources of hazardous air pollutants such as formaldehyde, hexane, phenol, polycyclic organic matter, and toluene. Exposure to these air toxics may cause cancer, central nervous system problems, liver damage, respiratory problems and skin irritation." [EPA]. According to one health agency, asphalt fumes contain substances known to cause cancer, can cause coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath, severe irritation of the skin, headaches, dizziness, and nausea. [NJDHSS] Animal studies show PAHs affect reproduction, cause birth defects and are harmful to the immune system. [NJDHSS] The US Department of Health and Human Services has determined that PAHs may be carcinogenic to humans. [DHHS]
Flawed Tests Underestimate Health Risks. In addition to smokestack emissions, large amounts of harmful "fugitive emissions" are released as the asphalt is moved around in trucks and conveyor belts, and is stored in stockpiles. A small asphalt plant producing 100 thousand tons of asphalt a year may release up to 50 tons of toxic fugitive emissions into the air. [Dr. R. Nadkarni] Stagnant air and local weather patterns often increase the level of exposure to local communities. In fact, most asphalt plants are not even tested for toxic emissions. The amounts of these pollutants that are released from a facility are estimated by computers and mathematical formulas rather than by actual stack testing, estimates that experts agree do not accurately predict the amount of toxic fugitive emissions released and the risks they pose. According to Dr. Luanne Williams, a North Carolina state toxicologist, 40% of the toxins from asphalt plant smokestacks even meet air quality standards and for the other 60% of these emissions, the state lacks sufficient data to determine safe levels.
Even if an asphalt plant meets all air pollution standards, people living nearby are still exposed to cancer-causing substances that can cause long-term damage. These standards are based on the principle of "acceptable risk", and assume each state will enforce the standards, the plants will operate perfectly, and the owners can be trusted to operate on an honor system where they are expected to follow all the laws and regulations that apply to their facility without any government oversight. In the majority of cases, it is unknown whether the `theoretical' air emissions predicted by computer models and used by plant owners accurately reflect air emissions from a plant's daily operations. We must put safety first and shut down or overhaul the current system that fails to protect communities from the daily health hazards of asphalt plant pollution.
This would seem an easy decision based on these facts and that this plant would be in our protected Aquifer District and forbidden by zoning laws. However the ZBA has already ignored our town's Code Enforcement officer and has overturned his denial based on information given by a board member. Our advice to all who will be affected by this plant is to show up and loudly voice your concerns, let the ZBA and Planning Board know this is not good for our town our health and our children's health and we won't have it here.