Asphalt Roofing Tar Fumes and Smoke being address by US EPA

Personal Situations - Problems or Solutions.

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Asphalt Roofing Tar Fumes and Smoke being address by US EPA

Postby Beeshel » Thu Sep 18, 2008 12:37 am

Hello all,

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.
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Location: Antelope, CA

Asphalt Roofing Tar Fumes

Postby rabar » Sat Feb 21, 2009 5:03 pm

Your posting is right on my wavelength! Whenever I'm downwind of a smoking tar kettle, I'm convinced I'm dying a slow - or perhaps not so slow - death. Back some years ago I researched this a little, and discovered that the new pumps that pump the liquid to the roof require that the tar be heated to a higher viscosity (i.e. longer and hotter) than the old bucket-on-a-rope method.
Anyway, the San Francisco Bay Area does not seem to have any ordinances in place, but I'm going to check with our area supervisor.
I did find out that Los Angeles banned open tar kettles some years ago and that there are enclosed kettles that do the same job without polluting the neighborhood.
Thanks for bringing this up (and getting me active again)!
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Postby Beeshel » Sun Feb 22, 2009 10:29 am


Thank you for your response to my post. I hadn't known those facts about the asphalt kettle and the higher temperature. Back when I wrote that original post I was sure that the kettle was the main problem but I went out and videotaped the roofers tarring a roof in my neighborhood and realized that most of the fume comes from the application with the hot mop and open bucket on top of the roof. I have been fighting hard to get the owners of this community to make a switch to a different product altogether.(although they have already purchased a kettle with an afterburner) Check out this video: ... annel_page

The alternative is called Carlise TPO. It is a "cool" roof system and involves no toxic fumes like tar does.

Here's the articles about my neighborhood the Sacramento News & Review:

Also, here is the petition:

Would you like me to email you the asphalt report that was contracted for us by the US EPA's TASC project?

Keep in touch, and thank you,
Arbors Project Community Organizer
"I am fighting to protect our health and defend the air we breathe."

Please sign my petition at
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Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 5:51 pm
Location: Antelope, CA

Safe Roofing

Postby Jesse Cox » Mon May 04, 2009 7:28 pm

More and more roofing companies these days are particular with the materials they use in executing a roofing project to avoid this kind of instance. Most work in compliance with the standards of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to avoid health hazards.
Jesse Cox
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Re: Asphalt Roofing Tar Fumes and Smoke being address by US EPA

Postby advanced roofing » Mon Mar 22, 2010 3:01 pm

Green roofing companies can choose roofing materials that do not pollute the environment or harm people that breathe in their toxic fumes. Education is the key to making the difference to those that simply want a "cheap" new roof.
advanced roofing
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Re: Asphalt Roofing Tar Fumes and Smoke being address by US EPA

Postby Bracewell » Fri Jun 25, 2010 9:20 am

I'm looking for home insurance quotes and I have a flat felt roof, but most UK insurers only mention an asphalt roof (or the usual slate/ tile etc) as something that they will give a quote for. Is felt and asphalt the same thing?
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Re: Asphalt Roofing Tar Fumes and Smoke being address by US EPA

Postby Bracewell » Mon Jun 28, 2010 1:31 pm

Bracewell wrote:I'm looking for home insurance quotes and I have a flat felt roof, but most UK insurers only mention an asphalt roof (or the usual slate/ tile etc) as something that they will give a quote for. Is felt and asphalt the same thing?

no,felt is on a roll and gos on one strip at a time,asphalt is what it says,it gos on wet and is spread out over the area of the roof,most of the time gravel is put on top of it while it is still wet,this process helps to protect the asphalt from wear and keeping the sun from heating it up to a liquid form. it also seals the roof better than felt,being put on wet it covers all the cracks and gos where felt cant.
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Re: Asphalt Roofing Tar Fumes and Smoke being address by US EPA

Postby Raymind » Mon Dec 06, 2010 8:13 am

Those fumes and smokes that come from the asphalt might not really safe for our health. The government should do something about moderating on using this roofing material. Anyway, if you have some neighbors that are planning to make their roof into an asphalt then advice them not to use that.
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Re: Asphalt Roofing Tar Fumes and Smoke being address by US EPA

Postby yamugna » Sun Aug 21, 2011 10:39 pm

Are there any asthma medications available for people with high blood pressure? I have asthma and HBP. I'm currently on ADVAIR, which is not doing much for my symptoms--and I think it's actually harming my bp. Any ideas on what I can take? I'm planning on going to the allergist soon, and want to go armed with info. Thanks.
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Re: Asphalt Roofing Tar Fumes and Smoke being address by US EPA

Postby Wilberforce » Mon Aug 22, 2011 4:51 pm

Sorry... don't have any info on that.
• The Surgeon General has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to ambient smoke!

• If you smell even a subtle odor of smoke, you are being exposed to poisonous and carcinogenic chemical compounds!

• Even a brief exposure to smoke raises blood pressure, (no matter what your state of health) and can cause blood clotting, stroke, or heart attack in vulnerable people. Even children experience elevated blood pressure when exposed to smoke!

• Since smoke drastically weakens the lungs' immune system, avoiding smoke is one of the best ways to prevent colds, flu, bronchitis, or risk of an even more serious respiratory illness, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis! Does your child have the flu? Chances are they have been exposed to ambient smoke!
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Re: Asphalt Roofing Tar Fumes and Smoke being address by US EPA

Postby johncanady123 » Fri Oct 07, 2011 2:49 pm

We all know that smoking on our health, environment and other harmful effects. Smoking is harmful to every organ of the body. In simple words, we can say that smokers near death stage. Nicotine is found in tobacco a very addictive drug. The drug intake, your body stops growing and the results, leading to various diseases.
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Re: Asphalt Roofing Tar Fumes and Smoke being address by US EPA

Postby betsytune » Fri Oct 07, 2011 5:42 pm

The elementary school where I teach is replacing the roof with hot tar from a kettle. The fumes in my second grade class are unbearable! I have complained to no avail. Today it was determined that the intake vent in my room had been left open and there is black dust on it. The children and I are showing signs of illness. The project manager said we were in absolutely no danger and patronizingly said " the only thing that will happen to you is that your babies will all be born naked." He also said the particles are small and are of no concern. What should i do? Any advise would be appreciated. I feel as if we are being poisoned. It is a nightmare.
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Re: Asphalt Roofing Tar Fumes and Smoke being address by US EPA

Postby Dremmlin » Mon Nov 14, 2011 8:05 pm

Asphalt shingles make up roughly two thirds of the U.S. residential roofing market. They are made of the same four basic materials contained in hot-mix asphalt used in road construction. These materials include: fiberglass or cellulose backing (2-15%); asphalt cement (19-22% on a fiberglass-matt base, 30-36% on a cellulose-felt base made with paper); sand-sized, ceramic-coated natural rock called aggregate (20-38%); and mineral filler or stabilizer that includes limestone, dolomite and silica (8-40%). The asphalt used in shingles is made through the partial refinement of petroleum.

We need to push for alternative roofing construction materials that hold up longer and do not pollute the environment.
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Re: Asphalt Roofing Tar Fumes and Smoke being address by US EPA

Postby jones » Fri Jun 01, 2012 7:57 am

Some people demand these types of roof systems and some manufacturers strictly push these systems, but in general asphalt built-up roofs are becoming a thing of the past. Most people are choosing membrane roofing, such as TPO or PVC. Those are both available in white or light colors, which are considered a "cool roof".

The one thing I can't understand is why the project would take 3 years to complete. That is an extremely long period of time, especially for that project.
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