Health Effects of Exposure to Smoke from Oil Well Fires

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and several other federal agencies conducted surveys of workers in Kuwait City in May 1991, and of firefighters in the oil fields in October 1991. Blood samples were tested for 31 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and were compared with samples from a group of people living in the United States. The samples from people living in the United States were collected as part of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), a national survey of the health of Americans. The median concentration of VOCs among the firefighters was quite elevated. However, among the non-firefighting personnel, VOC concentrations were equal to or lower than the levels found among the people living in the United States.

NCEH also collaborated with the U.S. Department of Defense on a study of 30 members of an Army unit located in Germany. Blood from these military personnel was tested for VOCs at three points in time: before, during, and after their deployment to Kuwait. Tetrachloroethylene, a compound found in degreasing agents used to clean equipment, was the only VOC found to be elevated.

Page last reviewed: October 29, 2010 (archived document)