Asphalt & the Environment

How environmentally safe is asphalt production?

Asphalt plants must meet rigorous standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies, but often the individual plants set their own standards that are even more demanding. In fact, after a six-year study, the EPA announced in 2002 that asphalt plants were no longer on its list of industries considered major sources of hazardous air pollutants. Recent improvements in asphalt production have made the industry even more environmentally friendly. A company out of Tennessee has created a new technology that significantly lowers the temperatures it takes to properly mix asphalt. Up until now, asphalt had to be mixed at 330 degrees fahrenheit. With this new technology, the mix can now be done at 270 degrees. The amount of oil that would be saved in this manner in the USA each year would be equivalent to one week of imported oil – about 90 Million Barrels.

Can asphalt pavement be recycled?

Yes! Asphalt pavement is 100 percent recyclable and can be made to perform better the second or even third time around. In fact, it is the most recycled product in the United States, both in terms of tonnage (73 million tons, more than any other material) and in terms of percentage (80 percent of reclaimed asphalt pavement is recycled, a higher percentage than any other substance). That compares to significantly lower percentages for aluminum cans, newsprint, plastic and glass beverage containers, and magazines. In a joint report to Congress, the Federal Highway Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that more than 73 million tons of asphalt paving material was recycled in 1992. Recycling roads not only conserves natural resources and decreases construction time, it saves American taxpayers more than $300 million each year.

Is asphalt a sustainable material?

Clearly, it is. In addition to its recyclability, which conserves precious natural resources, asphalt provides long-life solutions for pavement construction. Some asphalt pavements reduce noise pollution and alleviate other environmental concerns. And, while annual production of asphalt paving material has increased by more than 250 percent over the past 40 years, emissions from asphalt plants have dropped by 97 percent or more.

Some additional points to consider:

Asphalt is not soluble or harmful in a water environment. It has been used successfully for many years in fish hatcheries, reservoirs of drinking water for human consumption, and other environmental protection applications.

Asphalt prevents pollution from getting into water supplies and protects against disease from waste materials. It can be combined with aggregate to form a voidless and impermeable layer. Asphalt pavements are effective liners and caps for landfills.

Many states have tested discarded asphalt pavement and determined that it should be categorized as clean fill.

Beyond Asphalt

Hot asphalt tapped for its solar power?

If you have ever blistered your bare feet on a hot road you know how asphalt absorbs the sun’s rays. Now, a Dutch company is siphoning the heat from roads and parking lots to heat homes and offices.

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