I am writing to all of you because I recently moved into a rental community near Sacramento County that used to be base housing but is now owned by a private company called The Arbors at Antelope. This is a 150 acre property with over 500 homes, some single family some duplexes. After I signed my one year lease and began moving in I smelled a noxious presence in the air and noticed a strange looking device a few houses away that had a thick heavy smoke emitting from it. Then I noticed the men on top of the roof apply what I realized must be tar to the roof. I was so shocked. I had no idea that people still used tar on roofs especially with the stringent rules on air quality and the conscious effort to fight global warming.
After living here for a few months and smelling tar on most week days (and nights) I became became ill when the roofing project was on my court for two weeks straight as the smoke and fumes were coming in my house 24 hours a day and there was nothing I could do to protect myself and my small daughter. I was having trouble breathing and went to the doctor and was diagnosed with intermittent asthma that would not get better until I stopped smelling tar fumes. I called the office and found out that this project was going to go on for three years total (they were one year into the project).
I am concerned because there are chemicals such as “polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) [which] are a group of over 100 different chemicals…[with complex compositions that become even more dangerous when heated that] are found [in the air when burning] coal tar, crude oil, creosote, and roofing tar… (ToxFAQs™ , 1996) as well as PM 10 and PM 2.5, which are regulated by the Clean Air Act’s “Primary standards [which] sets limits to protect public health, including the health of "sensitive" populations such as asthmatics, children, and the elderly” (Air and Radiation: National Ambient Air Quality Standards, 2008).
“Asphalt fumes have been reported to cause coughing and headaches and to irritate the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and respiratory tract “ (Marlow, Topmiller, & Whalen, 2007). PM 10 and PM 2.5 are known to cause “respiratory and cardiac problems, infections, asthma attacks, lung cancer and decreased life expectancy” (Pollutants & Health Effects, 2008). Please take a look at the information in the “Asphalt Training Guide” published by the Labor Occupational Health Program, School of Public Health, as is states that “mixed with the asphalt fumes may be hydrogen sulfide, a very toxic gas. Breathing too much can cause dizziness, convulsions, coma, or death… some of these chemicals can damage the liver, kidneys, and nervous system (including the brain)” (Baker, Downey, Gross, & Reiter, 1994).
The recent report by CARB finds an increase in mortality rates “for small populations being affected by small changes in pollutant concentrations that would result from a single or few sources of emissions” (Tran & et-al, 2008). There has been no study to determine the cumulative health risks to the general public associated with breathing asphalt smoke, gases and fumes at all and especially not this frequently and for this long. Since “carcinogenic PAHs have been detected in asphalt paving fumes—although at lower concentrations than those found in fumes from roofing asphalt” (Butler , et al, 2000) then the possibility for stricter restrictions on roofing tar might be in order.
As this is a unique situation, I am trying to get my local government to issue a “stop work order” on the permit from the County Building and Planning Department on the grounds that “when information about potential risks is incomplete, basing decisions about the best ways to manage or reduce risks on a preference for avoiding unnecessary health risks instead of on unnecessary economic expenditures” (Terms of Environment: Glossary, Abbreviations and Acronyms, Glossary: P, 2008) per the Precautionary Principle from the EPA.
In the interim, there would be time to assess the situation without continuing to expose the community to unknown health endpoints as well as diminished quality of life. Luis Garcia-Bakarich from The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new program (TASC) has set in motion a process to help evaluate this situation using help from technical experts such as environmental engineers and scientists from private companies and universities starting in the next few months which will result in a presentation to the community.
Asphalt has been around since the time of Babylon. As we have become a more conscious society we have come a long way technologically. The time has come for roofing tar to be reassessed by government in order to develop the air quality standards concerning asphalt roofing tar fumes, as well as to implement appropriate regulations in residential neighborhoods to bring them current with the Clean Air Act.
As the laws stand now there is nothing keeping these tar kettles from being brought back into my community again for any length of time. In fact, I was told by my local Air Quality Discrict that the company who owns this community voluntarily stopped the project for one year and then one month later the began tarring three houses in one week without any notice. I believe they thought they could get away with it but I cought them and reported it. At this time the Air Quality District has warned them that if they begin the project again using the same methods they will be cited as a public nuisance right off the bat.
None of this is especially necessary since there are alternatives that would help address problems associated with bitumen even after the installation is complete. For example, there are flat roof alternatives that cool the roofs down thus creating a more energy efficient home or business. Further, road asphalt creates the heat island effect because of the dark nature of the product. I’ve found a company in Australia that invented bioasphalt using sugar, molasses, tree resins and other readily available non toxic materials that are light in color and bring down the ground temperature significantly.
The end result would be a straightforward solution that would reduce greenhouse gasses, protect the air we breathe, be more energy efficient and help to stop global warming. I will keep trying but I cannot make a change all alone as none of my government officials are willing to help my community. So far I’ve received technical support from the US EPA’s TASC program, advice and support from my local Sierra Club and am being considered by the American Lung Association. Please, let me know if you any of you are interested in helping me. I would greatly appreciate it.