Epidemiological publications regarding the carcinogenic potential of asphalt (bitumen) are reviewed. In 1984 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) stated that there is "inadequate evidence that bitumens alone are carcinogenic to humans." They did, however, conclude that animal data provided sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of certain extracts of steam refined and air refined bitumens. In the absence of data on man, IARC considered it reasonable to regard chemicals with sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in animals as if they presented a carcinogenic risk to man. Epidemiological data for man accumulated since the IARC report do not fulfil the criteria for showing a causal association between exposure to asphalt and development of cancer. The studies cited all suffer from a lack of data on exposure or potential confounders, which are necessary to establish whether or not such an association may or may not exist. In view of the evidence (or lack thereof) regarding asphalt today, an appropriate public health attitude suggests at least that action be taken to protect those working with asphalt by monitoring the workplace, taking whatever steps are possible to minimise exposures and to inform workers of potential hazards. At the same time, a need exists for well designed analytical epidemiological studies to determine whether a risk of cancer in man exists from exposure to asphalt.
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