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Crude Oil

What is Crude Oil?

Crude oil is a dark, oily liquid that is usually found naturally in underground reservoirs, pools, and tar sands. It is a fossil fuel that is extracted and used to make petroleum products.

Crude oil is refined to make gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, residential fuel oil, kerosene, propane, and other sources of energy. It is also used to make waxes, ink, crayons, tires, and some cleaning and personal care products.

See also: Fuel Industry Cancer Asthma and other Lung Diseases

Where is Crude Oil found?

  • Consumer products - waxes, ink, crayons, tires, and some cleaning and personal care products
  • Natural environment - in underground reservoirs, ponds, and tar sands

How can I be exposed to Crude Oil?

Crude Oil commonly enter(s) the body through:


Ingestion (swallowing)

  • Eating seafood contaminated by an oil spill or leak

Inhalation (breathing)

  • Breathing exhaust from vehicles, oil products, or heating sources

Skin contact

  • Touching crude oil liquid, drops, or tarballs on a beach from an oil spill

What happens when I am exposed to Crude Oil?


Breathing fumes from crude oil can cause:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness and confusion
  • Nausea

Skin contact with crude oil can cause:

  • Rashes
  • Skin irritation, burning, and swelling

Eye contact with crude oil can cause:

  • Eye irritation

Swallowing small amounts of crude oil can cause:

  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Long-term exposure to low levels of crude oil can cause:

  • Lung, liver, and kidney damage
  • Infertility
  • Immune system suppression
  • Disruption of hormone levels
  • Blood disorders
  • Genetic mutations

Who is at risk for exposure to Crude Oil?

  • Consumers
    • Some consumer products and fuels are made with crude oil.
  • People living near an oil spill or leak
    • Oil spills can contaminate water, seafood, and soil.

Reduce your risk

If you think your health has been affected by exposure to crude oil, contact your health care professional.

Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling chemicals. For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

  • Do you use products containing crude oil?
  • How frequently are you exposed to vehicle exhaust or gas stations?
  • Do you live near a busy highway?
  • If you use oil products, use appropriate ventilation and wear protective clothing.
  • Pump gas carefully to avoid breathing the fumes.
  • If your pet has oil contaminants on its fur or paws, wear protective clothing when cleaning the pet.
  • Avoid eating seafood that may be contaminated.
  • Avoid skin contact with crude oil.
  • Don’t let children play near oil refineries.
  • Don’t let children swim or play near an oil spill, oil leak, or tarballs.

National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases

  • Crude Oil. Hazardous Substances Data Bank
    Search results on crude oil from a toxicology database that focuses on the toxicology of potentially hazardous chemicals.
  • Oil Spills
    Curated links to current consumer health information on the effect of oil spills on human health. These English and Spanish web resources include background information and journal articles.

Additional Resources

  • Tarballs
    National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
    Answers to questions about tarballs, including their sources, associated health hazards, location, and removal.
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