People living near asphalt pavement sealed with coal tar have an elevated risk of cancer, according to a study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. Much of this calculated excess risk results from exposures in children, age six or younger, to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from the sealant.
“The increased cancer risk associated with coal-tar-sealed asphalt (CSA) likely affects a large number of people in the U.S. Our results indicate that the presence of coal-tar-based pavement sealants is associated with significant increases in estimated excess lifetime cancer risk for nearby residents,” said E. Spencer Williams, Ph.D., principal author of the study and Baylor University assistant research scientist at the Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.
Researchers from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and the U.S. Geological Survey in Austin, Texas, are the first to report on the potential human health effects of PAHs in settled house dust and soil in living spaces and soil adjacent to parking lots sealed with coal-tar-based products.
“Exposure to these compounds in settled house dust is a particularly important source of risk for children younger than six years of age, as they are expected to ingest this material at higher rates,” Williams said. “This indicates that the use of coal-tar-based pavement sealants magnifies aggregate exposures to PAHs in children and adults in residences adjacent to where these products are used and is associated with human health risks in excess of widely accepted standards.”