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Asphalt is a brownish-black liquid petroleum material that hardens when it cools. Asphalt cement poisoning occurs when someone swallows asphalt.
This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
- Industrial glues
- Industrial solvents
Road paving materials
Note: This list may not include all uses of asphalt.
- Severe change in acid levels in the blood
Eyes, ears, nose, and throat:
- Loss of vision
- Severe pain in the throat
- Severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue
Heart and blood:
- Low blood pressure that develops rapidly
Lungs and airways:
- Breathing difficulty (from breathing in asphalt)
- Throat swelling (which may also cause breathing difficulty)
- Holes (necrosis) in the skin or tissues underneath
Seek immediate medical help. Do NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care professional.
If the chemical was swallowed, immediately give the person water or milk, unless instructed otherwise by a health care provider. Do NOT give water or milk if the patient is having symptoms (such as vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness) that make it hard to swallow.
Before Calling Emergency
Determine the following information:
- Patient's age, weight, and condition
- Name of the product (ingredients and strengths, if known)
- Time it was swallowed
- Amount swallowed
The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national 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.
See: Poison control center - emergency number
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
The health care provider will measure and monitor your vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. You may receive:
- Breathing support, including a tube through the mouth and into the lungs, connected to a breathing machine (ventilator)
- Bronchoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
- Chest x-ray
- EKG (heart tracing)
- Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
- Fluids through vein (by IV)
- Materials to dissolve the asphalt
- Surgical removal of burned skin (skin debridement)
- Washing of the skin (irrigation) -- perhaps every few hours for several days
How well you do depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment is received. The faster you get medical help, 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.
Guidotti TL. Hydrogen sulfide. In: Shannon MW, Borron SW, Burns MJ, eds. Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 91.
Lee DC. Hydrocarbons. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al., eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 158.
- Last reviewed on 1/24/2014
- Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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