Mortality from obstructive lung diseases and exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons among asphalt workers

Igor Burstyn, Paolo Boffetta, Dick Heederik, Timo Partanen, Hans Kromhout, Ole Svane, Sverre Langård, Rainer Frentzel-Beyme, Timo Kauppinen, Isabelle Stücker, Judith Shaham, Wolfgang Ahrens, Sylvie Cenée, Gilles Ferro, Pirjo Heikkilä, Mariëtte Hooiveld, Christoffer Johansen, Britt G. Randem, Walter Schill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Work in the asphalt industry has been associated with nonmalignant respiratory morbidity and mortality, but the evidence is not consistent. A historical cohort of asphalt workers included 58,862 men (911,209 person-years) first employed between 1913 and 1999 in companies applying and mixing asphalt in Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, and Norway. The relations between mortality from nonmalignant respiratory diseases (including the obstructive lung diseases: chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma) and specific chemical agents and mixtures were evaluated using a study-specific exposure matrix. Mortality from obstructive lung diseases was associated with the estimated cumulative and average exposures to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and coal tar (p values of the test for linear trend = 0.06 and 0.01, respectively). The positive association between bitumen fume exposure and mortality from obstructive lung diseases was weak and not statistically significant; confounding by simultaneous exposure to coal tar could not be excluded. The authors lacked data on smoking and full occupational histories. In conclusion, exposures to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, originating from coal tar and possibly from bitumen fume, may have contributed to mortality from obstructive lung diseases among asphalt workers, but confounding and bias cannot be ruled out as an explanation for the observed associations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)468-478
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Asthma
  • Benzo(a)pyrene
  • Bronchitis
  • Coal tar
  • Cohort studies
  • Emphysema
  • Polycyclic hydrocarbons, aromatic


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