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Health department reviewing studies on impact of asphalt on public health

October 12, 2005 - By LAURA UHLMANSIEK

Staff Reporter

The county Planning Commission has en-listed the help of the Department of Health to sift through studies about the impact asphalt production and storage can have on public health.

After adopting a resolution by Council-man Skip Mange, R-Town and Country, the County Council asked the Planning Commission to consider to amend the county's zoning ordinance to allow the storage and processing of asphalt at quarry sites with asphalt plants. During the commission's Sept. 26 public hearing, several residents who live near Fred Weber Inc.'s south quarry in Oakville raised concerns about the health hazards associated with asphalt. Representatives from local quarries opposed this view, saying that recycled asphalt is a safe material.

Janet Williams, director of the Depart-ment of Health's Division of Environmen-tal Protection, told the Call that the department will evaluate several health studies and will be contacting its "technical and regulatory partners at the federal level" to make a determination. It could take up to two months before the review is complete, she said.

"We certainly will leave no stone un-turned to make a determination," Williams said.

County Planner Mike Zeek told the Call that the Planning Commission had asked the health department to review the materials. Once the review is complete, it will be included in a report the staff is scheduled to present to the Planning Commission Nov. 7. The commission then will make its recommendation on whether to accept the report. That recommendation will be sent to the County Council, which will decide whether to amend the zoning ordinance.

Mange had introduced the resolution for the Planning Commission to consider changing the zoning ordinance to allow the storage of recycled asphalt at quarries and asphalt plants at the Aug. 30 County Council meeting. Just two months earlier, Chairman John Campisi, R-south county, had denied a rezoning request by Fred Weber Inc. that would have permitted storing asphalt at its Oakville quarry.

At the Sept. 26 public hearing regarding the resolution, Planning Commission Chairman Doug Morgan asked representatives from the asphalt quarries and construction companies if they had any studies on the health hazards associated with recycled asphalt pavement, or RAP.

"It's not an evil material," said Mark Bussen, president of Bussen Quarries. "Re-cycled asphalt is not hazardous and can be found all across St. Louis County, all across Missouri, our country and across the world."

John King, an attorney representing the Simpson Materials Co., said he had reviewed several reports and found nothing that said recycled asphalt was environmentally unsafe.

Phil Hocker of the Pace Construction Co. told the Planning Commission about a test the Missouri Department of Transportation ran when considering not allowing recycled asphalt material as dirt fill.

"What they did, they took a few guppies, and they placed them in a tank of water along with solid and crushed asphalt pavement to determine if they would survive in that environment," he said. "Not only did the guppies survive but they started reproducing. Being in a water environment in contact with asphalt had no effect, negative effect, on the guppies. After doing this and some other tests, MoDOT then decided that they would allow recycled asphalt to be used in dirt fills."

Tom Diehl of Oakville, who lives near Weber's south quarry, said he opposes amending the zoning ordinance and cited several studies that show health hazards associated with recycled asphalt.

"I hope they don't take the statements from representatives from the asphalt industry as gospel because there has been a lot of research done on asphalt processing, grinding asphalt and concrete, that integration should be looked at by the planning department before making any recommendation on the proposal that they got from Skip Mange," Diehl told the Call.

In a letter to the Planning Commission, Diehl stated that the Occupational Safety Health Administration, or OSHA, requires employers to provide employees with material safety data sheets that have information about the hazards of chemicals produced or used in the workplace.

In his letter, Diehl included an example data sheet from Ashland Paving and Con-struction that lists the hazards of the dust created with asphalt recycling work.

"Dust may irritate the nose, throat, and airways, and may cause coughing, sneezing, and shortness of breath," according to the data sheet. "Prolonged or repeated breathing of quartz-containing dust may result in progressive and permanent lung disease (silicosis) which may cause death from respiratory and/or heart failure."

Diehl also contested the guppy test referenced at the meeting, citing a 1997 study conducted by the National Park Service on the environmental impacts of asphalt. The study found there was some evidence that exposure to asphalt may cause mutagenic effects and DNA damage in animals.

Diehl also cited a non-scientific survey conducted by the Isaiah cluster of Met-ropolitan Congregations United, or MCU.

The group conducted a survey of about 360 residents who live in neighborhoods surrounding Weber's south quarry and asphalt piles. MCU reported higher cases of respiratory problems and high blood pressure than the national average.

After MCU asked for official tests to be conducted, the County Council granted funding to test the soil, air and water surrounding the quarry. After delays in the county, MCU asked that the tests be postponed until spring or summer next year during the peak ozone months.

"In no way should the county endorse placing asphalt facilities and storage in residential neighborhoods or environmentally sensitive areas," Diehl stated in the letter. "The symptoms and health problems associated with chronic exposure to asphalt fumes and dust documented by medical research precisely describe the type of health problems reported in the health survey conducted last fall by Metropolitan Congregations United.''

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