Human health risks from oil pipeline spills

October 9, 2011

Oil pipelines have been in the news a lot this past year, between the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and various publicized oil spills. Potential human health effects of these spills are one of the concerns frequently raised, so I’m going to take a fairly high-level look at the potential risks here. Environmental effects are a separate topic that I’ll hopefully get to in the future.

First off, to have a human health risk, you have to have a few conditions met. The first is obviously that you have to have a potentially harmful chemical. Since any chemical, whether natural or synthetic, is potentially harmful at some dose, that one is kind of a given. The second condition is that chemical must get to where humans can be exposed. The third is that humans have to be exposed to enough of the chemical to have a potential for adverse health effects.

When oil is inside a pipeline there isn’t really any potential for exposure. So what happens when oil is released during a pipeline rupture?

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Health effects from chemical exposures – not just a modern phenomenon

May 29, 2011

When we think about exposures to chemicals causing adverse effects on human health, there is a tendency to view this as a product of modern industrial societies. To some extent this is true – there are certainly potentially hazardous chemicals we are exposed to as a result of our lifestyles, such as volatile chemicals in paints and solvents, the gasoline used to fuel our vehicles, and products of the combustion of tobacco. Most of the instances where we can clearly associate an adverse health effect with a particular chemical exposure are from workers in factories and chemical plants.

However, a new paper by Sebastian Wärmländer and colleagues examines a much older case of exposure to harmful chemicals – specifically aboriginal populations in California starting around 10,000 years ago exposed to polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).

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