Human Health Ramifications of Oil Spills

Crude oil spill accidentOil spills, whether in marine environments or at the workplace, can have serious repercussions on humans. Exposure to oil spills and its fumes can cause a host of both acute and long-term effects on a person’s health.

This is why having a systematic oil spill cleanup procedure is important — all traces of the oil need to be removed to minimise human exposure and its subsequent health repercussions. Proper training is required to ensure that the clean-up crew clears every drop of the oil. This requires the use of industrial grade spill absorbents such as absorbent pillows, booms and pads.

Acute Effects

The acute effects of oil spill exposure are well documented. The groups who are at highest risk are those who participate in oil clean-up efforts, and the populations living near an oil-exposed area.

Crude oil consists of many different chemical compounds. Some of them, such as benzene and toluene, are classed as volatile organic compounds or VOCs. VOCs evaporate quickly and produce irritating fumes.

People who are exposed to these VOCs often experience some form of respiratory distress, including chest pain, coughing and difficulty breathing. They may also feel dizzy, experience headaches, or vomit.

When oil comes in contact with the skin, it may cause dermatitis and lead to skin infections. Dermatitis is characterised by itchy, reddish skin.

Long Term Effects

Prolonged exposure to oil can also have long-term health effects. Exposure to high levels of oil VOCs can result in cancer. There is also a risk of developing respiratory problems, as well as issues with the central nervous system.

Oil spills have also been linked with several mental health issues — according to the Scientific American, people exposed to the Exxon Valdez oil spill are experiencing higher rates of depression, even after years have passed.

Oil spills undoubtedly have major effects on human health and require a quick and systematic clean-up response.

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