Toxicity Of Crude Oil And It's Vapors
CRUDE OIL is a complex mixture of chemicals, some volatile and some water soluble. One of the components of crude oil is hydrogen sulfide, a very potent neurotoxin. Although hydrogen sulfide is a gas, it has solubility in water. This characteristic in combination with other sulfides and lower aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons, which are part of the crude oil, is what we smell when land and water become contaminated with crude oil. Hundreds of chemicals make up the crude including some straight chained hydrocarbons, branched hydrocarbons, aromatic compounds, and naphthenes, as well as polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons.
One of the more insidious components of crude oil is benzene. Benzene is quite water soluble (1700 mg/l) and is a known human carcinogen producing various blood dyscrasias including aplastic anemia, Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and leukemia. The toxicology of benzene is addressed in the Toxicology Litigation Support section on this website. One of the potential problems with benzene is that it is more soluble in the crude oil than it is in water. It can be released from the floating crude into the air over the water and also released from the crude on the shore by the baking sun. This presents only one of the potential health hazards for those living near a contaminated shoreline. Similarly, a host of additional low molecular weight hydrocarbons, aromatic compounds, and sulfur compounds can act in a similar fashion.
Also contained in crude oil are several polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, many of which are also classified as known human carcinogens. These materials mostly have very limited volatility, but they can penetrate human and animal skin resulting in significant exposure to those contacting the crude oil. They can adhere also to airborne dust particles and be inhaled. These polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PNAs) tend to concentrate in fatty tissue and are slowly released into the body producing a long-term exposure scenario. Animals and aquatic life exposed to crude also would be expected to concentrate these PNAs in fatty tissue which could later be consumed by humans resulting in additional exposure to polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons. The use of dispersants exacerbates this problem and, in my opinion, significantly increases the toxicity of crude oil and its components to marine life. This could easily be tested using standard toxicological protocols, but, to my knowledge, this has not been done.
Some of the immediate symptoms resulting from exposure to crude oil would include difficulty breathing, nausea, headaches, dizziness in relatively healthy people, but those with conditions such as COPD, allergies, and asthma would be affected even more and their health problems significantly exacerbated. Effects presenting at a later time could result in long-term effects on the respiratory, immune, nervous, and reproductive systems and may even result in birth defects and cancers. Endocrine disruption, DNA damage, damage to the developing fetus, blood disorders, and mutations have all been shown to result from exposure to the components of crude oil.
In conclusion, crude oil is a highly toxic mixture of carcinogens, neurotoxins, respiratory irritants, hepatotoxins, nephrotoxins, and mutagens. Its toxic effects can be both acute and chronic resulting in a number of immediate symptoms and significant long-term effects including reproductive problems and cancer. Exposure to crude can be through the air as a result of volatilization of some of its components, through direct contact by dermal penetration, and orally through the ingestion of contaminated food.
Agency for Toxic Substances &Disease Registy ATSDR), Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta, Georgia, resource accessed at http://www.toxnet.nlm.nih.gov (2010).
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), World Heath Organization (WHO), Occupational Exposures in Petroleum Refining; Crude Oil and Major Petroleum Fuels, IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, Volume 45, Lyon France (1989).
Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances (RTECS), National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, Cincinnati, Ohio, Petroleum, CAS No. 8002-05-9 (2010).
International Uniform Chemical Information Database (IUCLID) Dataset, European Chemicals Bureau, European Commission; February 19, 2000 (CAS No. 8002-05-9 (2000).
Zock, J. P., Rodriguez-Trigo, G., Pozo-Rodriguez, F., Barbera, J. A., Bouso, L., Torralba, Y., Anto, J. M., Gomez, F. P., Fuster, C., Verea, H. (SEPAR-Prestige Study Group), Prolonged respiratory symptoms in clean-up workers of the prestige oil spill. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 176(6), 610-616 (2007).
Seymour, F. K. and Henry, J. A., Assessment and management of acute poisoning by petroleum products. Human and Experimental Toxicology, 20(11), 551-562 (2001).
Henry, J. A., Composition and toxicity of petroleum products and their additives. Human and Experimental Toxicology, 17(2), 111-123 (1998).
Caprino, L. and Togna, G. I., Potential health effects of gasoline and its constituents: A review of current literature (1990-1997) on toxicological data. Environmental Health Perspectives, 106(3), 115-125 (1998).
Carmichael, P. L., Ni She, M. and Phillips, D. H., DNA adducts in human and mouse skin maintained in short-term culture and treated with petrol and diesel engine lubricating oils. Cancer Letters, 57(3), 229-235 (1991).
Austin, H., Cole, P. and McCraw, D. S., A case-control study of leukemia at an oil refinery. Journal of Occupational Medicine, 28(11), 1169-1173 (1986).
Dutka, B. J. and Kwan, K. K., Study of long term effects of oil and oil-dispersant mixtures on freshwater microbial populations in man made ponds. Science of the Total Environment, 35(2), 135-148 (1984).
Scott, B. F., Nagy, E., Dutka, B. J., Sherry, J. P., Taylor, W. D., Glooschenko, V., Wade, P. J. and Hart J., The fate and impact of oil and oil-dispersant mixtures in freshwater pond ecosystems: introduction. Science of the Total Environment, 35(2), 105-113 (1984).
Kaldor, J., Harris, J. A., Glazer, E., Glaser, S., Neutra, R., Mayberry, R., Nelson, V., Robinson, L. and Reed, D., Statistical association between cancer incidence and major-cause mortality, and estimated residential exposure to air emissions from petroleum and chemical plants. Environmental Health Perspectives, 54, 319-332 (1984).
Bingham, E. and Barkley, W., Bioassay of complex mixtures derived from fossil fuels. Environmental Health Perspectives, 30, 157-163 (1979).
Lykke, A. W. and Stewart, B. W., Fibrosing alveolitis (pulmonary interstitial fibrosis) evoked by experiemntal inhalation of Gasoline vapours. Experientia, 34(4), 498 (1978).
Shabad, L. M., Carcinogenic action of polycyclic hydrocarbons in animals and in man. International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Scientific Publication, Number 16, 257-269 (1977).
Rial, D., Beiras, R., Vazquez, J. A. and Murado, M. A., Acute toxicity of a shoreline cleaner, CytoSol, mixed with oil and ecological risk assessment of its use on the Galician Coast. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, March 10, e-publication, ahead of print (2010).
Bejarano, A. C. and Michel, J., Large-scale risk assessment of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in shoreline sediments from Saudi Arabia: environmental legacy after twelve years of the Gulf war oil spill. Environmental Pollution, 158(5), 1561-1569 (2010).
Jonsson, H., Sundt, R. C., Aas, E. and Sanni, S., The Arctic is no longer put on ice: evaluation of Polar cod (Boreogadus saida) as a monitoring species of oil pollution in cold waters. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 60(3), 390-395 (2010).
Perez, C., Munilla, I., Lopez-Alonso, M. and Velando, A., Sublethal effects on seabirds after the Prestige oil-spill are mirrored in sexual signals. Biology Letters, 6(1), 33-35 (2010).
Koran, K. M., Venosa, A. D., Luedeker, C. C., Dunnigan, K. and Sorial, G. A., Development and testing of a new protocol for evaluating the effectiveness of oil spill surface washing agents. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 58(12), 1903-1908 (2009).
Reynolds, J. H. and Braman, N., Using tolerance intervals to assess recovery of mussel beds impacted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 58(10), 1496-1504 (2009).
Meo, S. A., Al-Drees, A. M., Rasheed, S., Meo, I. M., Khan, M. M., Al-Saadi, M. M. and Alkandari, J. R., Effect of duration of exposure to polluted air environment on lung function in subjects exposed to crude oil spill into sea water. International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, 22(1), 35-41 (2009).
Michel, J., Nixon, Z., Dahlin, J., Betenbaugh, D., White, M., Burton, D. and Turley, S., Recovery of interior brackish marshes seven years after the chalk point oil spill. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 58(7), 995-1006 (2009).
Boudreau, M., Sweezey, M. J., Lee, K., Hodson, P. V. and Courtenay, S. C., Toxicity of Orimulsion-400 to early life stages of Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) and mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus). Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 28(6), 1206-1217 (2009).
Incardona, J. P., Carls, M. G., Day, H. L., Sloan, C. A., Bolton, J. L., Collier, T. K. and Scholz, N. L., Cardiac arrhythmia is the primary response of embryonic Pacific herring (Clupea pallasi) exposed to crude oil during weathering. Environmental Science and Technology, 43(1), 201-207. (2009).
Puente, A., Juanes, J. A., Calderon, G., Echavarri-Erasun, B., Garcia, A. and Garcia-Castrillo, G., Medium-term assessment of the effects of the Prestige oil spill on estuarine benthic communities in Cantabria (Northern Spain, Bay of Biscay). Marine Pollution Bulletin, 58(4), 487-495 (2009).
McGrath, J. A. and Di Toro, D. M., Validation of the target lipid model for toxicity assessment of residual petroleum constituents: monocyclic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 28(6), 1130-1148 (2009).
Martinez-Gomez, C., Fernandez, B., Valdes, J., Campillo, J. A., Benedicto, J., Sanchez, F. and Vethaak, A. D., Evaluation of three-year monitoring with biomarkers in fish following the Prestige oil spill (N Spain). Chemosphere, 74(5), 613-620 (2009).
Diez, I., Secilla, A., Santolaria, A. and Gorostiaga, J. M., Ecological monitoring of intertidal phytobenthic communities of the Basque Coast (N. Spain) following the Prestige oil spill. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 159(1-4), 555-575 (2009).
Morales-Caselles, C., Riba, I. and DelValls, T. A., A weight of evidence approach for quality assessment of sediments impacted by an oil spill: the role of a set of biomarkers as a line of evidence. Marine Environmental Research, 67(1), 31-37 (2009).
Riazi, M. R. and Roomi, Y. A., A model to predict rate of dissolution of toxic compounds into seawater from an oil spill. International Journal of Toxicology, 27(5), 379-386 (2008).
Salamanca, M. J., Jimenez-Tenorio, N., Reguera, D. F., Morales-Caselles, C. and Delvalls, T. A., An early approach for the evaluation of repair processes in fish after exposure to sediment contaminated by an oil spill. Journal of Environmental Science and Health [A] Environmental Science and Engineering & Toxic and Hazardous Substance Control, 43(14), 1592-1597 (2008).
Ha, M., Lee, W. J., Lee, S. and Cheong, H. K., [A literature review on health effects of exposure to oil spill]. Journal of Preventative Medicine and Public Health, 41(5), 345-354 (2008).
Jimenez-Tenorio, N., Salamanca, M. J., Garcia-Luque, E., Gonzalez de Canales, M. L. and DelValls, T. A., Chronic bioassay in benthic fish for the assessment of the quality of sediments in different areas of the coast of Spain impacted by acute and chronic oil spills. Environmental Toxicology, 23(5), 634-642 (2008).
Leme, D. M., de Angelis, D. deF. and Marin-Morales, M. A., Action mechanisms of petroleum hydrocarbons present in waters impacted by an oil spill on the genetic material of Allium cepa root cells. Aquatic Toxicology, 88(4), 214-219 (2008).
Andersen, L. E., Melville, F. and Jolley, D., An assessment of an oil spill in Gladstone, Australia - impacts on intertidal areas at one month post-spill. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 57(6-12), 607-615 (2008).
Perez-Cadahia, B., Laffon, B., Valdiglesias, V., Pasaro, E. and Mendez, J., Cytogenetic effects induced by Prestige oil on human populations: the role of polymorphisms in genes involved in metabolism and DNA repair. Mutation Research, 653(1-2), 117-123 (2008).
Silva, C. A., Oliveira Ribeiro, C. A., Katsumiti, A., Araujo, M. L., Zandona, E. M., Costa Silva, G. P., Maschio, J., Roche, H. and Silva de Assis, H. C., Evaluation of waterborne exposure to oil spill 5 years after an accident in Southern Brazil. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, 72(2), 400-409 (2009).
Kirby, M. F. and Law, R. J., Oil spill treatment products approval: the UK approach and potential application to the Gulf region. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 56(7), 1243-1247 (2008).
Gonzalez-Doncel, M., Gonzalez, L., Fernandez-Torija, C., Navas, J. M. and Tarazona, J. V., Toxic effects of an oil spill on fish early life stages may not be exclusively associated to PAHs: studies with Prestige oil and medaka (Oryzias latipes). Aquatic Toxicology, 87(4), 280-288 (2008).
Koehler, A., Marx, U., Broeg, K., Bahns, S. and Bressling, J., Effects of nanoparticles in Mytilus edulis gills and hepatopancreas - a new threat to marine life? Marine Environmental Research, 66(1), 12-14 (2008).
Morales-Caselles, C., Riba, I., Sarasquete, C. and Angel DelValls, T., The application of a weight of evidence approach to compare the quality of coastal sediments affected by acute (Prestige 2002) and chronic (Bay of Algeciras) oil spills. Environmental Pollution, 156(2), 394-402 (2008).
Morales-Caselles, C., Kalman, J., Micaelo, C., Ferreira, A. M., Vale, C., Riba, I. and Delvalls, T. A., Sediment contamination, bioavailability and toxicity of sediments affected by an acute oil spill: Four years after the sinking of the tanker Prestige (2002). Chemosphere, 71(7), 1207-1213 (2008).
Cheikyula, J. O., Koyama, J. and Uno, S., Comparative study of bioconcentration and EROD activity induction in the Japanese flounder, red sea bream, and Java medaka exposed to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Environmental Toxicology, 23(3), 354-362 (2008).
Viarengo, A., Dondero, F., Pampanin, D. M., Fabbri, R., Poggi, E., Malizia, M., Bolognesi, C., Perrone, E., Gollo, E. and Cossa, G. P., A biomonitoring study assessing the residual biological effects of pollution caused by the HAVEN wreck on marine organisms in the Ligurian Sea (Italy). Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 53(4), 607-616 (2007).
Alonso-Alvarez, C., Perez, C. and Velando, A., Effects of acute exposure to heavy fuel oil from the Prestige spill on a seabird. Aquatic Toxicology, 84(1), 103-110 (2007).
Zock, J. P., Rodriguez-Trigo, G., Pozo-Rodriguez, F., Barbera, J. A., Bouso, L., Torralba, Y., Anto, J. M., Gomez, F. P., Fuster, C. and Verea, H. (SEPAR-Prestige Study Group), Prolonged respiratory symptoms in clean-up workers of the prestige oil spill. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 176(6), 610-616 (2007).
Brannon, E. L., Collins, K. M., Cronin, M. A., Moulton, L. L., Parker, K. R. and Wilson, W., Risk of weathered residual Exxon Valdez oil to pink salmon embryos in Prince William Sound. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 26(4), 780-786 (2007).
Thomas, R. E., Lindeberg, M., Harris, P. M. and Rice, S. D., Induction of DNA strand breaks in the mussel (Mytilus trossulus) and clam (Protothaca staminea) following chronic field exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from the Exxon Valdez spill. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 54(6), 726-732 (2007).
Khizaneishvili, I. B. and Tsulukidze, M. A., [State of health of children and structure of morbidity in the region of catastrophe of oil producing plant.]. Georgian Medical News, (137), 77-79 (2006).
Harwell, M. A. and Gentile, J. H., Ecological significance of residual exposures and effects from the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management, 2(3), 204-246 (2006).
Cohen, C., Gagnon, M. M. and Nugegoda, D., Oil spill remediation techniques can have different impacts on mixed function oxygenase enzyme activities in fish. Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 76(5), 855-862 (2006).
Navas, J. M, Babin, M., Casado, S., Fernandez, C. and Tarazona, J. V., The Prestige oil spill: a laboratory study about the toxicity of the water-soluble fraction of the fuel oil. Marine Environmental Research, 62(Suppl), S352-S355 (2006).
Bolognesi, C., Perrone, E., Roggieri, P. and Sciutto, A., Bioindicators in monitoring long term genotoxic impact of oil spill: Haven case study. Marine Environ Reseearch, 62(Suppl), S287-S291 (2006).
Ramachandran, S. D., Sweezey, M. J., Hodson, P. V., Boudreau, M., Courtenay, S. C., Lee, K., King, T. and Dixon, J. A., Influence of salinity and fish species on PAH uptake from dispersed crude oil. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 52(10), 1182-1189 (2006).
Carrasco, J. M., Lope, V., Perez-Gomez, B., Aragones, N., Suarez, B., Lopez-Abente, G., Rodriguez-Artalejo, F. and Pollan, M., Association between health information, use of protective devices and occurrence of acute health problems in the Prestige oil spill clean-up in Asturias and Cantabria (Spain): a cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health, 6, 1 (2006).
Sanchez, F., Velasco, F., Cartes, J. E., Olaso, I., Preciado, I., Fanelli, E., Serrano, A. and Gutierrez-Zabala, J. L., Monitoring the Prestige oil spill impacts on some key species of the Northern Iberian shelf. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 53(5-7), 332-349 (2006).
White, H. K., Xu, L., Lima, A. L., Eglinton, T. I. and Reddy, C. M., Abundance, composition, and vertical transport of PAHs in marsh sediments. Environmental Science and Technology, 39(21), 8273-8280 (2005).
Lemiere, S., Cossu-Leguille, C., Bispo, A., Jourdain, M. J., Lanhers, M. C., Burnel, D. and Vasseur, P., DNA damage measured by the single-cell gel electrophoresis (Comet) assay in mammals fed with mussels contaminated by the 'Erika' oil-spill. Mutation Research, 581(1-2):11-21 (2005). Lemiere, S., Cossu-Leguille, C., Bispo, A., Jourdain, M. J., Lanhers, M. C., Burnel, D. and Vasseur, P., Genotoxicity related to transfer of oil spill pollutants from mussels to mammals via food. Environmental Toxicology, 19(4), 387-95 (2004).
Edwards, K. R., Lepo, J. E. and Lewis, M. A., Toxicity comparison of biosurfactants and synthetic surfactants used in oil spill remediation to two estuarine species. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 46(10), 1309-1316 (2003).
French-McCay, D. P., Development and application of an oil toxicity and exposure model, OilToxEx. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 21(10), 2080-2094 (2002).
Page, C. A., Bonner, J. S., McDonald, T. J. and Autenrieth, R. L., Behavior of a chemically dispersed oil in a wetland environment. Water Research, 36(15), 3821-3823 (2002).
Page, D. S., Boehm, P. D., Stubblefield, W. A., Parker, K. R., Gilfillan, E. S., Neff, J. M. and Maki, A. W., Hydrocarbon composition and toxicity of sediments following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, USA. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 21(7), 1438-1450 (2002).
Barron, M. G. and Ka'aihue, L., Potential for photoenhanced toxicity of spilled oil in Prince William Sound and Gulf of Alaska waters. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 43(1-6), 86-92 (2001).
Cohen, A., Nugegoda, D. and Gagnon, M. M., Metabolic responses of fish following exposure to two different oil spill remediation techniques. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, 48(3), 306-310 (2001).
Cohen, A. M. and Nugegoda, D., Toxicity of three oil spill remediation techniques to the Australian bass Macquaria novemaculeata. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, 47(2), 178-185 (2000).
George-Ares, A. and Clark, J. R., Aquatic toxicity of two Corexit dispersants. Chemosphere, 40(8), 897-906 (2000).
Kira, S., Itoh, T., Hayatsu, H., Taketa, K., Zheng, Y., Li, R., Holliday, T. L. and Giam, C. S., Detection of waterborne mutagens and characterization of chemicals in selected Galveston sites after an oil spill. Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 53(2), 285-291 (1994).
Richard Parent, PhD, DABT, FATS, RAC, ERT has been providing consultations and testimony for both plaintiff and defense and has testified in local, state and federal courts around the country. He has lectured and continues to lecture on causation related to toxic exposures. He is board certified in Toxicology by the American Board of Toxicology and the Academy of Toxicological Science and is also Regulatory Affairs Certified and a recognized expert in Toxicology in the European community.
©Copyright - All Rights Reserved
DO NOT REPRODUCE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION BY AUTHOR.