John M. Park, Ph.D. and Michael G. Holliday, Ph.D.
Q.E.P. Michael Holliday & Associates
Introduction: This chapter addresses chemical aspects of occupational
health and marine oil-spill response and is restricted to exposures
to crude oil in its various forms. Thus in-situ burning of oil
is included, but ancillary chemicals such as surfactants or bioremediation
agents are not. The content of this chapter is largely based on the
literature published after 1985, the date of a comprehensive review
conducted by Politzer et al.  for the American Petroleum
Institute, and on a review carried out for the Marine Spill Response
Corporation early in 1993 [Holliday and Park, 1993].
Concern about health and safety is a normal part of every oil spill.
In general, safety is easier to understand and address than are concerns
about exposure to crude oil and other chemicals which might be used
in the response. At one level, human exposure can be addressed through
the enforcement of very conservative requirements for the use of personal
protective equipment (PPE). In the real world, however, conditions at
a spill site make the use of such equipment inconvenient or even hazardous,
and so the goal becomes to balance the risk from exposure with the appropriate
level of PPE.
While oil-spill cleanup is a comparatively new aspect of occupational-health
practice, and dates from the formalization of response measures by companies
and national and international agencies (something that occurred over
the last 30 years), exposure to crude oil itself is a "mature" occupational-health
matter. Workers have been exposed, both by inhalation and dermally,
to the effects of crude oil for the past century. The exposure of response
workers during the early phases of the oil-spill response can be likened
to that experienced by oil-well-drilling crews and, to a lesser extent,
by oil-well-maintenance personnel or fighters of oil-well fires. In
contrast, exposures in the later stages of the cleanup are less clearly
related to occupations within the oil industry. The crude oil will have
been altered by weathering, and exposure to cleanup chemicals (e.g.,
dispersants, bioremediation agents) will become relatively more prominent.
Such substances are beyond the scope of this chapter, and in any event,
few data are available on the compositions or mammalian toxicity of
dispersants. Although there are frequent references to toxicity in connection
with dispersants, these invariably seem to refer to ecotoxicity. Human
hazard does not appear to be an issue. For example, in a recently published
paper entitled, "Effectiveness and safety of biosurfactants as agents
of oil spill response" [Lepo et al., 1997], "safety" refers to possible
toxicity to crustaceans and fish.
Full Text (143k)
return to oil