Cancer mortality among European asphalt workers: an international epidemiological study. I. Results of the analysis based on job titles

Am J Ind Med. 2003 Jan;43(1):18-27. doi: 10.1002/ajim.10181.


Background: Inhalation of bitumen fumes is potentially carcinogenic to humans.

Methods: We conducted a study of 29,820 male workers exposed to bitumen in road paving, asphalt mixing and roofing, 32,245 ground and building construction workers unexposed to bitumen, and 17,757 workers not classifiable as bitumen workers, from Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden, with mortality follow-up during 1953-2000. We calculated standardized mortality ratios (SMRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) based on national mortality rates. Poisson regression analyses compared mortality of bitumen workers to that of building or ground construction workers.

Results: The overall mortality was below expectation in the total cohort (SMR 0.92, 95% CI 0.90-0.94) and in each group of workers. The SMR of lung cancer was higher among bitumen workers (1.17, 95% CI 1.04-1.30) than among workers in ground and building construction (SMR 1.01, 95% CI 0.89-1.15). In the internal comparison, the relative risk (RR) of lung cancer mortality among bitumen workers was 1.09 (95% CI 0.89-1.34). The results of cancer of the head and neck were similar to those of lung cancer, based on a smaller number of deaths. There was no suggestion of an association between employment in bitumen jobs and other cancers.

Conclusions: European workers employed in road paving, asphalt mixing and other jobs entailing exposure to bitumen fume might have experienced a small increase in lung cancer mortality risk, compared to workers in ground and building construction. However, exposure assessment was limited and confounding from exposure to carcinogens in other industries, tobacco smoking, and other lifestyle factors cannot be ruled out.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cause of Death
  • Cohort Studies
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons*
  • Inhalation Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Lung Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced
  • Occupational Diseases / mortality*
  • Occupational Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Occupations / statistics & numerical data


  • Hydrocarbons
  • asphalt