Human Health Effects Studies from Selected Oil Tanker Spill Disasters

Appendix A: Human Health Effects Studies from Selected Oil Tanker Spill Disasters

Previous reports have associated symptoms and other adverse health effects in clean-up workers and communities with spills of crude and fuel oil from tankers. These studies involve crude oil or refined petroleum products that may not be directly comparable to crude oil in the Deepwater Horizon event. Studies of eight tanker disasters are shown below. More detailed information is available in several recent reviews by Aguilera et al 20108 and Rodriguez-Trigo et al 2007.15

Appendix A
Spill Type of Oil Health Effects Author
Exxon Valdez
(Alaska, 1989)
Crude Worker comp claims (1811): sprains/strains (506), respiratory (264), cut/laceration (150) & contusion/crushing (144). Gorman et al, 199111
Alaskan Native and Euro-American residents found to have depressive symptoms. One year later, PTSD was associated with social disruption. Palinkas et al, 199235 and 200436
MV Braer
(Scotland, 1993)
Crude Residents affected by the oil spill compared to a control community 95 km away. Subject had significantly more headache, throat irritation, and itchy eyes. Day 1 after the spill was the most frequent day for onset of symptoms; 97% resolved by day 7. Six months later, exposed residents more likely to report their health was poor or had deteriorated. Campbell et al, 199337; Campbell et al, 199438
Sea Empress
(Wales, 1996)
Crude Residents in exposed areas reported higher rates of physical and psychological symptoms than control areas. Lyons et al, 199939
(Japan, 1997)
Fuel C oil Residents had low back pain and leg pain, headache, and symptoms of the eyes and throat despite low measured levels of exposure. Morita et al, 19999
(France, 1999)
Heavy #6 Fuel Oil Workers (1465) surveyed: backache (439 ), headache (317), skin irritation (230), eye irritation (126), difficulty breathing (98), nausea & vomiting (91). Schvoerer et al, 200040
(Spain, 2002)
Residual fuel oil (“bunker C oil”) Workers had headaches, itchy eyes, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, throat & respiratory problems. Risk factors for symptoms included working periods longer than 20 days in highly polluted areas, performing three or more activities, and having skin contact with fuel on head/neck or upper limbs. Receiving health and hygiene information prior to starting a clean-up activity was a protective factor. Suarez et al, 200541


Cleanup exposure caused increase in genotoxic damage. Perez-Cadahia et al, 2006 10
Workers (7000) had significantly higher rates of upper and lower respiratory tract symptoms, with a dose related increase based on number of days, number of hours worked per day and number of activities. Zock et al, 20077
Tasman Spirit
(Pakistan, 2003)
Crude Workers had acute decline in lung function measured by spirometry in 31 clean-up workers. More weeks of work was associated with greater losses of lung function. One year later, repeat spirometry among 20 workers showed function comparable with controls. Meo et al, 200842; Meo et al, 200943
Heibei Spirit
(South Korea, 2007)
Crude Workers had increased levels of VOC metabolites in urine. Resident of heavily/moderately oil-soaked areas had higher anxiety and depression. Both groups had increased headache, nausea, dizziness, sore throat, cough, skin rash, and sore eyes.


Lee et al, 201044
Lee et al, 2010b45
Page last reviewed: June 25, 2010