Tox Town - Crude Oil

What is crude oil?

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Crude oil is an oily liquid colored between dark yellow and black, often found in natural underground deposits. It was formed when the remains of animals and plants existing millions of years ago were covered by layers of sand. The heat and pressure of those layers made these remains in crude oil. Because of this process has been given the name of fossil fuel to crude oil. Hydraulic fracturing is a method used to extract natural gas and oil from deep shale rock formations.

Crude oil is a mixture of a wide variety of constituent elements. It consists mainly of hydrocarbons, which are chemicals composed of hydrogen and carbon. It also contains hundreds of substances, including benzene, chromium, iron, mercury, nickel, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, toluene and xylene. The term total oil hydrocarbons is used to describe the several hundred chemical compounds that originally came from crude oil.

There are four kinds of crude oil:

Crude oil is refined to produce gasoline, diesel, jet fuels, residential fuel oil, kerosene, liquefied petroleum gas, such as propane, and other energy sources to produce heat or electric power. It is also used to make lubricants, waxes, ink, crayons, eyeglasses, rims, CD and DVD, ammonia, dishwashing liquid and some medicinal and personal hygiene products. The United States ranks third among the top producers of crude oil, after Russia and Saudi Arabia.

How could it be exposed to crude oil? p> You may be exposed to crude oil if you live near an oil refinery or if there is a spill or an oil leak in the vicinity; also if you eat contaminated shellfish. The largest exposure to crude oil comes from total oil hydrocarbons and by-products of crude oil, such as gasoline, petroleum products, heating sources, or consumer products. The entire population is exposed to total oil hydrocarbons from many sources.

You may be exposed to crude oil when there is a spill in which tar balls form on the beach or on the coast. Wind and waves can fragment the patches of spilled oil into tar balls. The latter are small remaining petroleum fragments from spills, which can stick to rocks, sand or marine animals. Oil contaminants can stick to the skin of pets, which can contaminate people.

What effects does crude oil have on health?

Exposure to crude oil can irritate the eyes, skin and respiratory tract. It can cause dizziness, rapid heart rate, headache, confusion and anemia. Prolonged contact of the skin with crude oil can cause redness, edema and burns of the skin.

Burning crude oil, either by accident or as a control measure of a spill, emits chemicals that affect human health. These chemicals include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, sulfur dioxide, and volatile organic compounds. If you are exposed to the burning of crude oil, it can also be exposed to high concentrations of particulate material and experience the effects of this material for health. Exposure to the burning of crude oil can injure the nostrils, respiratory tract and lungs. It can cause shortness of breath, coughing, itching, tearing and redness of the eyes and formation of black mucus.

Exposure to tar balls can cause allergic reactions or skin rashes. > If you think your health has been affected by the handling of crude oil, contact your physician.

In case of emergency due to poisoning or if you have questions about possible toxic substances, contact the local poison control center by calling 1-800-222-1222.

Last Updated: January 19, 2017

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