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Ann Occup Hyg. 2007 Jan;51(1):27-34. Epub 2006 Oct 17.

DNA adducts among asphalt paving workers.

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  • 1Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.



Asphalt is used extensively in the highway construction industry and contains a complex mixture of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, some of which are known or suspected to be human carcinogens. Though numerous epidemiologic studies have described an excess cancer risk among asphalt workers, a causal relationship has not been established. Accordingly, the primary objective of this study was to use DNA adducts as a biomarker of biologically effective dose and determine whether DNA damage resulted from occupational exposure to asphalt among paving workers.


Over a 12 month period, four peripheral blood samples (spring, summer, fall and winter) were obtained from 49 asphalt paving workers (169 samples) and 36 non-paving construction workers (103 samples). The spring, summer and fall samples were collected during the work-season, whereas the winter samples were collected during the off-season (due to the seasonality of paving work). Mononuclear white blood cells were isolated and analyzed for DNA adducts via the (32)P-postlabeling assay and generalized linear models were used to evaluate the DNA adduct data.


Among paving workers during the work-season, DNA adducts increased during each day of the workweek such that mean adduct levels were lowest on Mondays (3 adducts per 10(10) nucleotides) and highest on Fridays (46 adducts per 10(10) nucleotides). Additionally, a 3-fold difference in adduct burden was observed by paving task such that mean adduct levels were lowest among roller operators (7 adducts per 10(10) nucleotides) and highest among screedmen (23 adducts per 10(10) nucleotides). Using adducts as a measure of biologically effective dose, these findings (weekday trend and task-based differences) were consistent with a previous evaluation of absorbed dose in the same population. Adduct levels were not, however, higher among paving workers than among non-pavers. Adducts were also highest during the winter months, suggestive of a seasonal effect that has been observed in previous studies.


These findings indicate that adduct burden increased throughout the workweek among paving workers, suggesting that DNA damage may be associated with occupational exposure to hot-mix asphalt. However, the lack of contrast with non-paving workers, as well as the seasonal variation warrants additional investigation.

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