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Heating oil & crude oil exposure limits & health effects: this article describes the exposure limits for home heating oil and for crude oil exposure in both exposure limits for oil fumes and exposure limits for contact with heating oil or crude oil.
To understand the health risks associated with exposure to home heating oil, it is useful to distinguish between exposure to the fuel itself or its fumes (discussed here) versus exposure to the combustion products of the fuel, such as oil burner exhaust, flue gases, smoke, soot, and the contents of those materials.
Exposure limits are discussed for heating oil, fuel oil, diesel fuel, and crude oil.
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Article Series Contents
Workers in the Gulf region are at risk from exertional heat stroke, and there can be short-term effects from fresh oil-spill fumes: affecting the eye, neurological system, and skin. Short term lung, kidney, and liver functions may be affected. Media reports and studies of oil spills do not address effects of long term or chronic exposure to crude oil spills, but sources indicate that as oil breaks down in water it becomes less toxic over time. - Reuters
OSHA's position and that of other expert sources such as the ATSDR is that modest typical residential exposure to heating oil fumes is a nuisance that may not pose a hazard to a healthy individual. Reuters reportedthat "Health and Human Services Department officials told a Congressional haring that little is known about the health impacts on people of oil spills." (Reuters, op cit. 6/23/10) We recommend monitoring results of "Assessing the Human Health Effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: An Institute of Medicine Workshop", June 22-23 2010. - Instutite of Medicine.
While the long term environmental effects of crude oil spills such as the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill are not yet clear, more immediate complaints of oil fumes ashore in Louisiana have been reported. Local health officials in that state have warned people with respiratory illness, asthma, or similar conditions to avoid breathing oil fumes and to "stay indoors".
The oil and oil fume toxicity, safety and MSDS data below provides a summary of possible health concerns from short term, chronic, or long term exposure to refined oil spills such as No. 2 home heating oil. We include links to Material Data Safety Sheets for Crude Oil MSDS [PDF] as well
In understanding the health risks associated with exposure to home heating oil, it is useful to distinguish between exposure to the fuel itself or its fumes (discussed here) versus exposure to the combustion products of the fuel, such as oil burner exhaust, flue gases, smoke, soot, and the contents of those materials. Additional details about oil tank and heating oil safety hazards are at OIL TANK SAFETY.
Fossil Fuel Combustion Gas Hazards for Home Heating Oil: at COMBUSTION GASES & PARTICLE HAZARDS we discuss the hazards from burning fossil fuels to heat buildings or to make hot water. Discusses are the most likely hazards from combustible fuels, oil and gas, in or around buildings. Our quote below is from an MSDS example MSDS for No. 2 Fuel Oil from Hess Corporation.
Below we turn to the exposure hazards to un-burned home heating oil liquid and fumes.
Air Quality & Crude Oil Spill Fume & Smoke Hazards
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) has reported the following possible hazards from exposure to oil spill fumes, smoke, or contaminated food, water, and oil dispersants: - quoting from original source 17 June 2010, http://emergency.cdc.gov/gulfoilspill2010/what_to_expect.asp
People can be exposed to hazardous substances related to the spill by breathing them (air), by swallowing them (food, water), or by touching them (skin). People should avoid close contact to the spill and fumes from any burning oil.
Watch out: If you smell gas or see smoke or know that fires are nearby, stay indoors, set your air conditioner to reuse indoor air, and avoid physical activities that put extra demands on your lungs and heart.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are monitoring the oil spill and its potential impact on the safety of seafood harvested from the area. Although crude oil has the potential to taint seafood with flavors and odors caused by exposure to hydrocarbon chemicals, the public should not be concerned about the safety of seafood in the stores at this time. For more information about seafood and the oil spill, visit http://www.fda.gov/Food/ucm210436.htm
Drinking water and household water are not expected to be affected by the spill. However, water used for recreation may be affected. Swimming in water contaminated with chemicals from the oil spill could cause health effects. For more information about water and the oil spill, visit http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/oil_spill/information_residents.htm#5.
Air Quality & Home Heating Oil Liquid & Fume Hazards
Our field investigation experience as well as a review of a responsible oil company's No. 2 home heating oil MSDS [Material Data Safety Sheet from HESS Corporation] and oil spill guidelines from several sources including the US EPA and state regulatory agencies provide anecdotal and other evidence that the elderly, infants, or people who are in fragile health, as well as people who suffer from multiple chemical sensitivity, allergies, asthma, and some other respiratory conditions may experience more serious symptoms including asthma attacks and other complaints.
The following is quoted from ATSDR's Public Health Statement for Fuel Oils [PDF] and represents the best summary of this question that we have found:
Several U.S. states including the Connecticut department of health provides a
and ATSDRs section on Heating Oil Chemical Properties. [PDF]
Here we summarize the basic information provided on MSDS sheets (material data safety sheets) for home heating oil. This information is a condensation of the full MSDS information on heating oil - readers should be sure to review the full home heating oil MSDS.
See MSDS Sheet for HOME HEATING OIL for our full article on this topic, including exposure limits for exposure to home heating oil in liquid or gas form.
A typical No. 2 home heating oil MSDS document provided by Hess Corporation includes the hazard identification information for home heating oil that we list below. The same document provides information about toxicity levels - the exposure necessary for serious medical effects to be at risk or to actually occur.
Readers should also see OIL TANK SAFETY where we describe the flammability and explosion hazards of fuel oil fumes and where we provide an extensive list of hazards and safety concerns for fuel oil. Also see OIL TANK LEAK ADVICE for our detailed advice on handling leaky oil tanks as well as links to oil tank leak regulations for U.S. states and Canadian provinces. Readers should also see BOILER NOISE SMOKE ODORS for a discussion of flue gas leaks, smells, and hazards from the combustion products of oil burning heating appliances.
4/3/2014 Michele said:
Is there any information on fuel oil leaks being teratogenic?
(May 15, 2014) jon said:
For other readers, Teratogenic is defined as
With the warning that not I nor other InspectApedia editors are medical experts, let's hop over to some of the fuel oil MSDS data. A typical No. 2 home heating oil MSDS (courtesy of Hess Corporation) discusses health effects of heating oil / fuel oil exposure.
You'll see that the discussion there is principally about possible carcinogenic (cancer causing) effects of fuel oil or heating oil exposure. The word teratogenic does not appear in that discussion. Or if that's not enough take a look at MSDS Sheet for HOME HEATING OIL.
But as soon as we go beyond the industry MSS & ATSDR authority one can certainly cite research suggesting teratogenic concerns. Here are a few citations of research into the teratogenic effects of fuel oil.
You'll see in any more extensive literature search that Hoffman dominates search results on the topic and so in my opinion is a key resource.
So my answer is yes quite possibly.
But considering your use of the undefined phrase "fuel oil leaks" I must add that "exposure" bears some careful examination and definition. A trivial oil spill at the oil burner during oil filter change most likely does not produce a measurable effect (in my OPINION) on humans. The people to watch for health effects first are those for whom exposure levels are likely to be higher. For example, see:
And let's remember the confounding effects of all of the other chemicals in the environment to which most people are exposed, even mere cooking oils.
Research on Heating Fuels & Oils Made from Recycled Plastics or Tyres
12 Jan 2015 Bheki Simelane said:
I would to know how good is the number 4 fuel oil made from recycled tyres and plastics
No. 4 fuel? See the definitions and types of heating fuels we provide at
There you'll see that #4 fuel oil (bunker oil) is used in large stationary engines, power plants, and very large commercial boilers. No. 4 oil when burned as heating fuel may contain several contaminants including nickel and sulphur.
There is indeed a No. 6 fuel being produced from recycled plastics by John Bordynuik, who JBI Inc. using a process he invented to convert plastic into oil by rearranging its hydrocarbon chains. Here is some research on production of fuels from recycled plastics:
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: odors after removing oil tank
(Apr 28, 2014) Anonymous said:
Detergent scrubbing, oil spill deodorizer sprays or liquids, dryout, then surface sealing is about as good as you can get. I'd remove whatever materials possible that don't need to be saved. Beware also that VOCs tend to permeate and hang around in other soft materials like insulation. On occasion the spill is so serious that deodorizing is not successful.
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