Using urinary biomarkers of polycyclic aromatic compound exposure to guide exposure-reduction strategies among asphalt paving workers

Ann Occup Hyg. 2012 Nov;56(9):1013-24. doi: 10.1093/annhyg/mes058. Epub 2012 Sep 20.


Introduction: Paving workers are exposed to polycyclic aromatic compounds (PACs) while working with hot-mix asphalt (HMA). Further characterization of the source and route of these exposures is necessary to guide exposure-reduction strategies.

Methods: Personal air (n=144), hand-wash (n=144), and urine (n=480) samples were collected from 12 paving workers over 3 workdays during 4 workweeks. Urine samples were collected at preshift, postshift, and bedtime and analyzed for 10 hydroxylated PACs (1-OH-pyrene; 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-OH-phenanthrene; 1-, 2-OH-naphthalene; 2-, 3-, 9-OH-fluorene) by an immunochemical quantification of PACs (I-PACs). The air and hand-wash samples were analyzed for the parent compounds corresponding to the urinary analytes. Using a crossover study design, each of the 4 weeks represented a different exposure scenario: a baseline week (normal conditions), a dermal protection week (protective clothing), a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) week, and a biodiesel substitution week (100% biodiesel provided to replace the diesel oil normally used by workers to clean tools and equipment). The urinary analytes were analyzed using linear mixed-effects models.

Results: Postshift and bedtime concentrations were significantly higher than preshift concentrations for most urinary biomarkers. Compared with baseline, urinary analytes were reduced during the dermal protection (29% for 1-OH-pyrene, 15% for I-PACs), the PAPR (24% for 1-OH-pyrene, 15% for I-PACs), and the biodiesel substitution (15% for 1-OH-pyrene) weeks. The effect of PACs in air was different by exposure scenario (biodiesel substitution>dermal protection>PAPR and baseline) and was still a significant predictor of most urinary analytes during the week of PAPR use, suggesting that PACs in air were dermally absorbed. The application temperature of HMA was positively associated with urinary measures, such that an increase from the lowest application temperature (121°C) to the highest (154°C) was associated with a 72% increase in ΣOH-fluorene and 1-OH-pyrene and an 82% increase in ΣOH-phenanthrene. Though PACs in hand-wash samples were not predictors of urinary analytes, the effects observed during the PAPR scenario and the week of increased dermal protection provide evidence of dermal absorption.

Conclusions: Our results provide evidence that PACs in air are dermally absorbed. Reducing the application temperature of asphalt mix appears to be a promising strategy for reducing PAC exposure among paving workers. Additional reductions may be achieved by requiring increased dermal coverage of workers and by substituting biodiesel for diesel oil as a cleaning agent.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / toxicity
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / urine
  • Biofuels / toxicity
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Biomarkers / urine*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons / toxicity
  • Inhalation Exposure / analysis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis
  • Occupational Exposure / prevention & control*
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / toxicity*
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / urine
  • Skin Absorption


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Biofuels
  • Biomarkers
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • asphalt