Health risks associated with crude oil spill exposure

Am J Med. 2014 Sep;127(9):886.e9 -13. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2014.04.035. Epub 2014 May 21.


Background: Human exposure to crude oil spills is associated with multiple adverse health effects including hematopoietic, hepatic, renal, and pulmonary abnormalities. The purpose of this study was to assess the hematological and liver function indices among the subjects participating in the Gulf oil spill cleanup operations in comparison with the standardized normal range reference values.

Methods: Using medical charts, clinical data (including white blood cell [WBC] count, platelet count, hemoglobin, hematocrit, blood urea nitrogen [BUN] creatinine, alkaline phosphatase [ALP], aspartate amino transferase [AST], alanine amino transferase [ALT], and urinary phenol) were gathered for the subjects who were exposed to the Gulf oil spill and analyzed.

Results: A total of 117 subjects exposed to the oil spill were included. Over 77% of subjects had WBC counts in the mid range (6-10 × 10(3) per μL), while none of the subjects had the upper limit of the normal range (11 × 10(3) per μL). A similar pattern was seen in the platelet counts and BUN levels among the oil spill-exposed subjects. Conversely, over 70% of the subjects had creatinine levels toward the upper limit of the normal range and 23% of subjects had creatinine levels above the upper limit of the normal range (>1.3 mg per dL). Similarly, hemoglobin and hematocrit levels were toward the upper limit of normal in more than two thirds of the subjects. AST and ALT levels above the upper limit of normal range (>40 IU per L) were seen in 15% and 31% of subjects, respectively. Over 80% of subjects had urinary phenol levels higher than detectable levels (2 mg per L).

Conclusion: The results of this study support our earlier study findings in which we found that people who participated in oil spill cleanup activities are at risk of developing alterations in hematological profile and liver function.

Keywords: Chemical exposure; Health impact; Hematological toxicity; Hepatotoxicity; Urinary phenol.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Biomarkers / urine
  • Cohort Studies
  • Environmental Restoration and Remediation*
  • Female
  • Gulf of Mexico
  • Hematologic Diseases / blood
  • Hematologic Diseases / etiology*
  • Hematologic Tests
  • Humans
  • Liver Diseases / blood
  • Liver Diseases / etiology*
  • Liver Diseases / urine
  • Liver Function Tests
  • Louisiana
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / blood
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / urine
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Petroleum Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers