Toxicology of oil field wastes. Hazards to livestock associated with the petroleum industry

Vet Clin North Am Food Anim Pract. 1989 Jul;5(2):363-74.


In oil-producing states, the proximity of livestock to drilling operations and production sites often results in poisoning of animals from ingestion of crude oil, condensate, salt water, heavy metals, and caustic chemicals. The heavy metals encountered most frequently are lead from pipe joint compound and arsenicals and chromates used as corrosion inhibitors. Numerous toxic and caustic chemicals are used in drilling muds and fluids. Crude oil and salt water spills are common occurrences around production sites. Pipeline breaks may result in exposure of livestock to crude oil or refined petroleum hydrocarbons. Ingestion of petroleum hydrocarbons may result in sudden death from peracute bloat. The most common cause of illness or death following exposure to petroleum hydrocarbons is aspiration pneumonia, which may cause a chronic progressive deterioration of health, with death after several days or weeks. Cases in which livestock are exposed to oil, salt water, or caustic chemicals, but do not die acutely or from aspiration pneumonia are more frustrating to diagnose. In these cases, parasitism, poor nutrition, and other debilitating diseases must be considered. Anorexia, weight loss, and decreased rumen motility may be caused by a disruption of normal rumen function. Petroleum hydrocarbons, salt water, and caustic chemicals have the potential of altering rumen flora and enzymatic processes as well as damaging the ruminal and gastrointestinal epithelium. The toxicity of petroleum hydrocarbons appears to be related more closely to the volatility and viscosity of the product than to other factors. The more volatile straight chain and aromatic petroleum hydrocarbons have a greater potential for aspiration pneumonia and may produce an anesthetic-like action if absorbed systemically. The more volatile petroleum hydrocarbons also are more irritating to skin and mucous membranes and appear to be more damaging to rumen flora. Treatment of petroleum hydrocarbon ingestion is aimed at preventing aspiration pneumonia and the animal's absorption of highly volatile components. Activated charcoal slurries and, in some instances, vegetable oil may be used to absorb the ingested petroleum or alter its viscosity to minimize absorption and aspiration. These procedures should be followed by the administration of rumenatories or saline cathartics to hasten the evacuation of the gastrointestinal tract. Chronic poor performance animals with anorexia and rumen dysfunction may respond to fresh rumen inoculant, intravenous glucose, and B-complex vitamins. Prognosis primarily hinges on whether or not aspiration pneumonia has occurred. Treatment of aspiration pneumonia rarely is effe

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Domestic*
  • Metals / poisoning*
  • Petroleum / poisoning*


  • Metals
  • Petroleum