Asphalt is a brownish-black liquid petroleum material that hardens when it cools. Asphalt cement poisoning occurs when someone swallows asphalt. If hot asphalt gets on the skin, serious injury can occur.
This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.
The substances in asphalt that can be harmful are:
Asphalt is found in:
Asphalt may also be used for other purposes.
Below are symptoms of asphalt poisoning in different parts of the body.
EYES, EARS, NOSE, AND THROAT
HEART AND BLOOD
LUNGS AND AIRWAYS
STOMACH AND INTESTINES
Seek medical help right away. DO NOT make the person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to.
If the person swallowed asphalt, give them water or milk right away, unless a provider tells you not to. DO NOT give anything to drink if the person has symptoms that make it hard to swallow. These include vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness.
Have this information ready:
Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated.
The person may receive:
How well someone does depends on how much asphalt they swallowed and how quickly they receive treatment. The faster medical help is given, the better the chance for recovery. Hot asphalt cools very quickly and is difficult to get off the skin. Serious burns can easily occur from the extreme heat. Construction workers who work with asphalt should wear protective clothing.
Asphalt is hard to swallow, but it may cause serious damage.
Delayed injury may occur, including a hole forming in the throat, esophagus, or stomach. This can lead to severe bleeding and infection. Surgical procedures may be needed to treat these complications.
If asphalt gets in the eye, ulcers may develop in the cornea, the clear part of the eye. This can cause blindness.
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.