On Thursday May 15th, the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) was called to respond to a 10,000 gallon crude oil spill at 5175 W San Fernando Road after an above-ground pipeline break that sprayed oil 20 feet into the air and onto the neighboring businesses, while fumes spread for miles.
LAFD Hazardous Materials (HAZ-MAT) teams worked to contain the runoff using sand from a local concrete company and built a 2.5ft high x 30ft wide lagoon of oil that was then suctioned off the road by vacuum trucks. Absorbents were used to soak up the remaining crude oil, and the asphalt and building were given a power-soak with high pressure water and soap solution. Luckily, no oil entered the L.A. River storm drains.
2 women were transported to the hospital for nausea secondary to the extreme odor emitted from the crude. The L.A. County Department of Public Health issued an advisory stating that residents in the area take precautions against the odors that could lead to mild, temporary health impacts including: eye/nose/throat irritation, headache, dizziness, upset stomach. Residents were advised to keep their homes well ventilated and those that were sensitive should limit outdoor activities until the odor subsided, though the symptoms were not expected to last very long.
Crude oil is a mixture of a variety of different components, though is primarily composed of hydrocarbons. Other constituents include benzene, chromium, iron, mercury, nickel, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, toluene and xylene. There are four different classes of crude oil which each can have a different effect if spilled.
Class A: Light, Volatile Oils: These oils are highly fluid and highly toxic to humans and include jet fuel and gasoline.
Class B: Non-Sticky Oils: These oils are waxy and less toxic to humans and include diesel fuel and light crude oil.
Class C: Heavy, Sticky Oils: These oils are brown or black and sticky or tarry and include most crude oils. Their toxicity is low, but if spilled, their impacts on waterfowl and wildlife can be severe.
Class D: Non-Fluid Oils: These oils are non-toxic and include heavy crude oils. They are difficult to clean up, and if spilled, their impacts on waterfowl and wildlife can be severe.
After the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the CDC and NIOSH were tasked with analyzing the health hazards response workers faced due to exposure to the spilled oil as well as the chemicals and materials used in clean-up. While the type of exposure varied widely depending on type of work being performed, examination of infirmary logs of the response workers showed that off the 1,004 reported visits, 36% were for ear, nose, throat and respiratory complaints, orthopedic/injury accounted for 15% and heat-related disorders represented 2%.
While we can assume the exposure of response workers to disasters such as Deepwater Horizon is much greater than that of those who responded to the L.A. spill, the immediate respiratory effects of the oil is still of concern. It remains to be seen how crude oil exposure will affect health outcomes long term.
For more information
OSHA has reported recommendations to mitigate the health hazards associated with oil cleanup.
Review: Effects of exposure to spilled oils on human health, J App Toxicol; 30: 291-301
CDC has complied selected studies on the human health effects of oil spills
Report written by Vidya Eswaran