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How Crude Oil Toxins and Petrochemicals Affect Your Health

Updated on June 10, 2010

Any oil spill is detrimental to the surrounding environment, but the crude oil toxins that escape into the atmosphere pose a possible health risk for individuals living in and around the affected area. Health risks are most prominent in the very young, the elderly and those who suffer from asthma.

What Are Toxins and Where Are They Found?

Toxins are manmade compounds that are poisonous to the human body. Unfortunately, toxins are found everywhere from the food we eat to the air we breathe. Our bodies are fairly efficient at disposing of toxins within the body to keep us healthy. When toxins are released unexpectedly into the atmosphere in large amounts, such as with an oil spill, the human body is less apt to adequately handle those toxins and likely to fall ill.

Human Exposure to Petrochemical Toxins

As a general rule, humans are exposed to petrochemical toxins on a daily basis. They permeate the air and are used in the manufacture of insecticides. These insecticides are ingested when humans eat non-organic fruits and vegetables. While most consumers simply rinse fruits and vegetables before eating or cooking, unless contaminated food products are washed with soap and water, the petrochemical toxins remain and are ingested. 

Fruits and vegetables contain petrochemicals toxins from insecticides.
Fruits and vegetables contain petrochemicals toxins from insecticides.

After an oil spill, however, contamination is more concentrated and widespread. Oil remediation workers are at a particularly high risk of sickness due to their continued and direct exposure to petrochemicals. In addition, the toxins quickly disperse into the air and are inhaled by individuals living in coastal cities and, if the wind is right, those living several miles inland as well. 

The Impact of Crude Oil Toxins on Human Health

Crude oil toxins have a clear and adverse effect on human health. After exposure to these poisonous substances following an oil spill, individuals have reported such adverse health effects as:

  • Headaches
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea

Scientists have known for years that the toxins found in petrochemicals suppress the efficiency of the human thyroid. This explains the fatigue many individuals feel following exposure to airborne crude oil. Suppressed thyroid function can also lead to weight gain.

Crude oil toxins can give you a headache.
Crude oil toxins can give you a headache.

Minimizing Crude Oil Exposure

The only way to truly avoid the unpleasant side effects of being exposed to petrochemicals is to avoid exposure as much as possible. If you live in an area where an oil spill has recently occurred, keep your windows and doors tightly closed to avoid outdoor air from entering your home. Purchasing and using an air purifier will help dispose of dangerous chemicals within the air. Make sure that the air purifier you choose comes equipped with a UV light to also kill harmful bacteria. 

Purchase a simple surgical mask and wear it when you leave the house and when you are driving in your car. Although this won’t prevent you from inhaling airborne petrochemicals, it will reduce your overall exposure. 

Stay away from contaminated beaches at all costs. Although it may be tempted to see the level of destruction, directly exposing yourself to drying oil puts your health at risk. If you happen to come into direct contact with oil, wash it off immediately. Do not bring oil-contaminated objects or clothing into your home. 


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    • profile image

      ezeh kingsley obinna 5 years ago

      i drunk crude oil since then i have not being myself from one headache to another what am i suppose to do if i sleep and woke up it will look as if this is not my body again

    • profile image

      john 6 years ago

      i worked for the clean up in destin fl went in for Headaches

      Difficulty breathing



      now there telling me i have a viral brain infection n i have to take pills to stop the pain every 4 hrs i only sleep 3-4 hrs a night now -n- when i get up it feels like a hang over from hell every day and i don't drink any more

    • Spiritual Growth profile image

      Spiritual Growth 7 years ago from Bristol, England

      Thank you that was very interesting and useful.