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Sunday, September 30, 2007



I have been thinking about this subject for almost 50 years, and I know it will be very controversial, but here is the proposition. Have you ever as a child watched the tar on the road or sidewalk bubble under the heat of the hot sun in the summer time? I even remember as a child picking up the tar and molding it in my fingers. Also do you remember and do you observe now the hydrocarbon odor emanating from an asphalt road as the sun beats upon it especially during the hot summer months? If you have not, bring your nose to about one or two feet from the surface of the pavement and you will smell it.

Just go to the gas pump and observe the federal regulations in effect as the attempt is made to protect the gasoline purchaser from the fumes emanating from pouring gas into the tank. That short exposure is insignificant to the exposure one obtains driving down a hot asphalt-paved highway.

There might be a relationship, although probably difficult to prove a causal one, between the increasing use of asphalt for paving and cancer in the US. If we recognize the well proven causative effect of hydrocarbons upon causing cancer, why do we not recognize a similar causative relationship between the inhalation of asphalt fumes to the same disease? There is a reason mentioned below. Whether the exposure is to a single large dose of a carcinogenic substance or to the cumulative effect of many small doses would appear to be a mute one because in laboratory experiments it is well known that the body can store toxic substances so that the many small doses eventually are large doses. Although the body is equipped to eliminate toxic substances, depending upon the substance the detoxifying capacity of the body, it can be slowed because of the chemical involved and the dose accumulated.

The body can eliminate toxic chemicals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic, but, depending upon the speed of this detoxification and the dose of the toxic chemical, disease may occur as a result of an imbalance between these two events. If the ability to detoxify is less than the amount of chemical entering the body, disease occurs.

The exposure to the fumes emanating from asphalt-paved roads is a chronic one. The fumes are hydrocarbon gasses which are taken into the lungs and absorbed. I do not know what effect skin exposure might have, but considering the amount of chemicals some people put on their skin, such as creams, antiperspirants, and deodorants, skin absorption might be altered and might be a source by which a chemical is absorbed.

We warn the public to avoid exposure to hydrocarbon chemicals. I am warning about the exposure to asphalt fumes but short of wearing a face mask all the time, I have, at this time, no ready solution. Sorry.

If DDT were considered so dangerous to the public health that in December 1972 it was banned from general use in the US, why not do the same for asphalt which might be a greater danger because of its ever present and continuous exposure?

It would probably be in health’s best interest to pave roads with cement which is more inert than asphalt, at least fumes do not emanate from cement-paved roads other than what might come from the adherence of tire rubber and oil spills from vehicles. I do not expect the practice of paving roads with asphalt to diminish any time soon because the largest industries in the world – the oil industry – is heavily involved and they have considerably more power than I to spew forth the propaganda refuting my humble considerations.

nicola michael c. Tauraso, M.D.
Director, Tauraso Medical Clinic


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