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The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) was requested by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to evaluate the potential health effects that could result from a fire at a local roofing company. ADHS was asked what types of health effects are likely to occur in a nearby residential community, and to also recommend any follow up actions that may be necessary to protect public health.

The roofing company where the fire occurred is located at 4201 W. Harrison Street in a primarily industrial area. The business stored approximately 500 one-gallon containers of various roofing products such as rubberized asphalt, synthetic rubber in solvent solutions, and adhesives for bituthene protection board. At approximately 11:15 pm on June 26, 1998, ADHS responded to a fire at the business. The potential chemicals of concern were identified by ADEQ from the hazardous ingredients list on the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). [Please see Table 1].

Table 1.

Chemicals on Site (from MSDS)
Product Toxic Ingredients Combustion By-Products
Bituthene or PRMA Liquid Membrane Napthenic Oil (15%)

Methylene Bisphenyl Isocyanate(4%)

CO, Nitrogen oxides, Sulfur oxides, HCN
Bituthene Mastic Xylene (15%)

Ethyl Benzene (5%)

Toluene (1%)

Methane, propane, CO, DO2, Acrolein, Halogenated compounds, Acids, Ketones, Aldehydes
Waterproofing Membrane Napthenic Oil (15-35%) CO, Sulfur oxides, Asphyxiants
Bituthene PBA-3000 Heptane(18%)

Isopropyl Alcohol (1-5%)

Hexane (12%)

Calcium Carbonate (7-10%)

CO, CO2, Hydrocarbon, heavy smoke

Upon arriving at the fire scene, the ADEQ Air Quality Emergency Response Team (AQERT) took Draeger tube samples of benzene, toluene, cyanide, and xylene at 19th Avenue and Encanto. These results were non-detect. While the fire was in progress, additional samples continued to be collected every 15 to 30 minutes as far north east as Encanto, towards the closest residential neighborhoods. Until 1:15 pm, all samples were non-detect for benzene, cyanide, toluene, and xylene. [please see Table 2 for air sampling data].

Table 2.

Draeger Tube Air Samples
Time & Location Chemical Detection limit sample Comments
1130 hrs
19thAv & Encanto
10-400 ppm
5-80 ppm
2-15 ppm
non-detect (n/d) Measuring for xylene,benzene, toluene, and Cyanide
1140 hrs
20thAv & Holly
    n/d Measuring for xylene,benzene, toluene, and Cyanide
1155 hrs
19thAv & Granada
    n/d Measuring for xylene,benzene, toluene, and Cyanide
1215 hrs
20thAv & 19thAv
    n/d Measuring for xylene,benzene, toluene, and Cyanide
1230 hrs
Veterans memorial & Encanto
    n/d Measuring for xylene,benzene, toluene, and Cyanide
1315 hrs
22ndAv & McDowell
    10 ppm Xylene only
1315 hrs
22ndAv & McDowell
Unknown Compounds   8ppm Organic vapor meter
1416 hrs       ADEQ generator overheated
1510 hrs       ADEQ left the scene-- sampling ceased

South of the fire, the organic vapor meter detected samples of unidentifiable compounds at 8 ppm. Without additional data, exposure information cannot be ascertained for the unknown chemicals.

Due to heavy smoke and the levels of xylene, the Phoenix Fire Department evacuated area businesses North to McDowell Road. No contaminants were detected near the residential area. As a precaution, a health effects survey was later conducted by ADHS in the neighborhood closest to the fire which would have had the greatest likelihood of being exposed. Any health symptoms were characterized and residents self reported any symptoms they experienced.

Health Effects Survey
A small residential neighborhood approximately 0.5 mi. northeast of the fire in the direction of the plume /wind movement was determined most likely to have been impacted by the fire and was surveyed four days after the fire on June 30, 1998. Figure 1 displays the borders of this area. All 140 homes on these four streets were surveyed by a representative from the Office of Environmental Health.

The objectives of the survey was to characterize the symptoms reported by the residents and collect the concerns of the community. Expected symptoms, based upon a toxicological evaluation of the air monitoring data, would later be compared to the reported symptoms. Residents were apprised of the fire, given other health based information, and also given a contact person's name and number at ADHS to report other symptoms or questions.

Figure 1: Area of Residences Surveyed

Area of Residences Surveyed

If residents were home, they received a flyer and were asked whether they were experiencing short-term (lasting < 24 hrs) or long-term (lasting > 24 hrs) health symptoms as a result of the fire.

If residents were not home, a bilingual flyer (please see attachment A) was left on their door which stated that they should call ADHS if their symptoms persisted. Table 3 summarizes the results of the neighborhood survey.

Table 3.

Residents Reporting Health Symptoms

Street Name

Present at Home

Not home/ flyer only


No symptoms Short-term Long-term
  homes persons hms per hms per hms per* hms per*
Monte Vista 14 45 2 2 0 0 22 70 38 117
Holly 4 13 1 1 3 3 20 64 28 81
Alvarado 15 48 1 1 1 1 12 38 29 88
Cypress 9 29 2 2 0 0 34 109 45 140
Subtotals 42 134 6 6 4 4 88 140
Total hms 52
Total persons 144 282 426
*3.2 persons/household is extrapolated from 1990 Census data


Samples taken west of the fire on 22nd Avenue showed xylene present in the air at 10 ppm or 43,354 ug/m3 in the industrial area proximal to the plume (see circle#7 on attached site map). For workers in this area, the level exceeded both the one hour Arizona ambient air quality guidelines for xylene of 5,500 ug/m3, and the 24 hour exposure standard of 3500 ug/m3. [AQG, 1996].

At a concentration of 10 ppm, the workers are being exposed to more xylene than the acute Minimall Risk Level (MRL) of 1 ppm. The MRL is derived from a Lowest Observed Adverse Effect Level (LOAEL) of 100 ppm that has incorporated an uncertainty factor of 100 (10 for use of LOAEL and 10 for human variability). [ATSDR Tox. Profile, 1995].

There are no reported acute health effects (< 14 days) from inhaling a 10 ppm concentration of xylene. Dudek, et. al, show that humans studies exposed to 100 ppm, for four hours have shown less serious effects such as dizziness and increased reaction time to a given stimulus. Rat studies have shown developmental effects such as reduced ossification when rats are exposed to an acute dose of 53 ppm for 8 days, at a duration of 24 hours a day. [ATSDR Tox. Profile, 1995].

The short-term complaints (<24hrs) coincide with what would be expected from smoke exposure, and included transient coughing, irritation to the eyes, throat, nose, headache, and difficulty breathing.

The long-term complaints (lasting > 24 hrs) from four homes were as follows:
Home 1:** Asthma
Home 2: Sore throat, headaches
Home 3: headache
Home 4: breathing problems
** - repeat caller who is already accounted for

There is no pattern/grouping of the location of the homes where people experienced symptoms lasting more than 24 hours. Again, the types of symptoms reported correlate with smoke exposure, and the levels of xylene in the residential area were non-detectible, or less than 10ppm.

During our health effects survey, we made direct contact with 37% of the homes in the target area (52/140). Of the homes surveyed, 4% (6/144) reported that a resident experienced mild symptoms lasting less than 24 hours. The complaints were to be expected from smoke inhalation, and included cough, irritation of eyes, nose, throat, and headaches.

About 3% (4/144) of the homes reported that a resident had suffered more severe symptoms that lasted longer than 24 hours. The symptoms reported were primarily sore throat, headaches, and asthma attacks/ wheezing. There was no cluster of homes in one particular area which experienced the more long lasting symptoms, and the percentage of people seriously afflicted is relatively low. A small number of people have inherently higher degrees of sensitivity and experience a greater inflammatory response perhaps due to histories of respiratory illness or other genetic factors.

The remaining 63% (88/140) of the homes, that were unresponsive to the door knocking received flyers that instructed residents in both English and Spanish to contact us if they were experiencing any symptoms as a result of the fire. No new cases were called into our office as of July 8, 1998.


There are no reported health effects in the literature from inhaling a 10 ppm dose of xylene in either children or adults. However, children are considered a sensitive subpopulation, along with the immune compromised and elderly, and are more likely to experience health effects at a lower dose than normal adults.


Based on the health effects survey and an evaluation of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality's air sampling data, the Arizona Department of Health Services concludes that the transient symptoms reported were consistent with exposure to the chemicals measured at the roofing fire and from smoke exposure. Although exposure did occur during the fire, no apparent public health hazard currently exists for either adults or children.

ADEQ sampled ambient air for xylene, benzene, cyanide, and toluene. The lack of data on any other toxic ingredient or toxic combustion byproduct is a data gap that can not be evaluated. Furthermore, PM 10 sampling was not conducted and therefore, the effects of the smoke particulates cannot be evaluated.

No health effects data was collected from workers at the company or any neighboring companies in the industrial park, so their symptoms could not be evaluated. This is a data gap in the health effects information collected since these people probably had the highest exposure.

Based on the size and nature of the fire, it is reasonable to conclude that most of the transient health symptoms reported by residents can be attributed to smoke. Current data shows no observed health effects prior to xylene concentrations of 100 ppm, therefore the 10ppm level of xylene is not likely to have posed any public health threat.


Actions Taken:
  1. ADHS conducted a community health effects survey.

  2. ADHS issued a bilingual flyer educating residents about the fire that occurred in their neighborhood and provided a toll free number for them to call and report their symptoms. [Attachment A]

Actions Planned:

No further action is recommended at this time.


  1. ATSDR Toxicological Profile: Xylene, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 1995.

  2. ADEQ HAZMAT/ Meteorologist Emergency Report on S&L Roofing Fire Incident, DRAFT, June 1998.

  3. Methodology for Developing AZ Ambient Air Quality Guidelines, ADHS-Office of Environmental Health, 1996.


Arizona Department of Health Services

Pragathi S. L. Tummala, MPH
Environmental Programs & Projects Specialist
Office of Environmental Health
Bureau of Epidemiology & Disease Control

Will Humble, MPH
Office of Environmental Health
Bureau of Epidemiology & Disease Control

ATSDR Regional Offices

Dan Strausbaugh, MPH
Region IX, San Francisco

ATSDR Technical Officers

William Greim
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation

Grant Baldwin
Division of Health Education and Promotion

Dhelia Williamson
Division of Health Studies


The S & L Roofing Company Health Consultation was prepared by the Arizona Department of Health Services under a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). It is in accordance with approved methodology and procedures existing at the time the health consultation was initiated.

William Greim
Technical Project Officer, SPS, SSAB, DHAC

The Division of Health Assessment and Consultation, ATSDR, has reviewed this health consultation and concurs with its findings.

Richard Gillig

Site Map
Figure 1. Site Map

Notice of Fire
Attachment A. Notice of Fire

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