Effects of Crude Oil Exposure on Children, Pregnant Women, and Other Adults

TASA ID: 733

Crude Oil has been pouring into the Gulf of Mexico and is causing numerous and significant health issues for children, pregnant women, and other adults. Exposure occurs via inhalation, ingestion (of liquid droplets in the air), and direct skin contact. Some of the health effects will be long-term sequelae and may last a lifetime or affect future generations. Crude oil is a known teratogen and can cause birth defects and changes in fetal development. The benzene component is a known carcinogen. The hematopoietic (blood forming) system, lymphatic system, nervous system, and reproductive system are all affected by exposure to crude oil.

Health Effects on Children and Pregnant Women

Any chemical that can cross the placenta influences the development of the embryo and fetus. This is particularly true at the time when cells are dividing and differentiating into specific tissues of the nervous, circulatory, and immune systems. According to the World Health Organization, the embryo, fetus, or child is particularly sensitive to even minute concentrations of toxic chemicals. Crude oil and its components are known teratogens and cause birth defects, changes in fetal development, and decreased fetal survival.  

Health Effects on Adults

Breathing the fumes from crude oil is known to cause chemical pneumonia, irritation of the nose, throat, and lungs, headache, dizziness, drowsiness, loss of coordination, fatigue, nausea, and labored breathing.  Chronic exposure can result in irregular heartbeats, convulsions, and coma. 

What Is Crude Oil?

The American Petroleum Institute's Manifesto on Crude Oil (CAS #8002-05-09) (a.k.a. sweet crude, Arab Medium, West Texas Inter-Cushing, earth oil, petroleum oil, rock oil, Zafiro) starts with a definition of the crude oil that is now pouring into the Gulf of Mexico and all related wetlands: "A complex combination of hydrocarbons. It consists predominantly of aliphatic, alicyclic and aromatic hydrocarbons. It may also contain small amounts of nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur compounds. This category encompasses light, medium, and heavy petroleums, as well as the oils extracted from tar sands." 

Specifically, crude oil (CAS #8002-05-9) contains benzene, butane, n-hexane, isopentane, pentane, and Stoddard solvent. Benzene is a known human carcinogen and is identified by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), OSHA, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a Group 1 carcinogen. Chronic inhalation of minute levels of benzene causes leukemia and other types of cancers.

Long-Term Sequelae

Acute contact, via inhalation and skin, with small amounts of light crude oil and dispersants causes transitory respiratory and skin reactions, as well as vomiting and diarrhea. However, long-term exposure, which can be a matter of days or weeks, can cause central nervous system problems or do damage to blood and organs such as the kidneys or liver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is also a significant increase in the risk of cancer.

Crude oil is not readily biodegradable, and the effects of exposure to this toxin will be felt from generation to generation. Children and pregnant women are at significant risk. As a toxicologist, I utilize the Bradford Hill Criteria of Causation, the methodology accepted by the scientific and medical community, in the correlation of all incidences of exposure and resultant health issues.  Long-term sequelae from exposure to crude oil and its components present a significant consideration for all affected.

This article discusses issues of general interest and does not give any specific legal, medical, or business advice pertaining to any specific circumstances.  Before acting upon any of its information, you should obtain appropriate advice from a lawyer or other qualified professional.

This article may not be duplicated, altered, distributed, saved, incorporated into another document or website, or otherwise modified without the permission of the author, who will be contacted by The TASA Group.

Previous Article Healthcare Act
Next Article Courtroom CSI: A New Look at Multimedia in the Courtroom for Medical/Injury Cases
Tasa ID733

Theme picker


  • Let Us Find Your Expert

  • Note: This form is to be completed by legal and insurance professionals ONLY. If you are a party in a case that requires an expert witness, please have your attorney contact TASA at 800-523-2319.

Search Experts

TASA provides a variety of quality, independent experts who meet your case criteria. Search our extensive list of experts now.

Search Experts