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J Appl Toxicol. 2010 May;30(4):291-301. doi: 10.1002/jat.1521.

Review on the effects of exposure to spilled oils on human health.

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  • 1Unidad de Toxicología, Dpto. Psicobiología, Universidad de A Coruña, España.


Harmful effects of oil spills on diverse flora and fauna species have been extensively studied. Nevertheless, only a few studies have been compiled in the literature dealing with the repercussions of oil exposure on human health; most of them have focused on acute effects and psychological symptoms. The objective of this work was to gather all these studies and to analyze the possible consequences of this kind of complex exposure in the different aspects of human health. Studies found on this topic were related to the disasters of the Exxon Valdez, Braer, Sea Empress, Nakhodka, Erika, Prestige and Tasman Spirit oil tankers. The majority of them were cross-sectional; many did not include control groups. Acute effects were evaluated taking into account vegetative-nervous symptoms, skin and mucous irritations, and also psychological effects. Genotoxic damage and endocrine alterations were assessed only in individuals exposed to oil from Prestige. The results of the reviewed articles clearly support the need for biomonitoring human populations exposed to spilled oils, especially those individuals involved in the cleanup, in order to evaluate not only the possible immediate consequences for their health but also the medium- and long-term effects, and the effectiveness of the protective devices used.

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