Impact of an oil spill on your health

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While the effects of oil spillage on the ecology are well known and the impacts on the economy of the island are predictable, the short and long term health risks are not clear. Despite the numerous oil spills that have happened over time, few have been studied. Most of the impact of crude oil on humans are based on observation of exposed people in previous oil spills, such as the Deep Water Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and or in South Korea in 2007.

Generally, crude oil spills affect human beings physically and mentally by their toxic effects on the body, and the socioeconomic disruption. Crude oil contains hundreds of hydrocarbons, a chemical substance which can be toxic. Exposure to hydro- carbons can occur by direct skin contact, breathing it, or consuming contaminated food or water. Therefore, the potential health risks also ex- tend to the locals.

Those exposed to the hydrocarbons in the Gulf of Mexico complained of short-term symptoms such as headache, shortness of breath, skin rash, cough, dizziness, fatigue, painful joints and chest pain. Potential long-term health risks to prolonged exposure include blood disorders, cancers, infertility as well as lung, liver and kidney damage. It is hence of crucial importance that divers, volunteers and fishermen being exposed to the polluted environment wear the appropriate PPE, which includes gloves, boots, protective pants & sleeves, eye protection and a cap. Essentially, they should be protecting themselves from head to toe to avoid any direct skin contact. Once worn, the PPE should be disposed of responsibly.

From a wider perspec- tive, our biggest loss is likely the balance in our ecosystem and disruption of our foodchain. Mauritius relies heavily on local fish and seafood. This source of food for the island could be contaminated with Polycyclic Aroma- tic Hydrocarbons (PAH), a group of hydrocarbons of particular concern be- cause of its capacity to accumulate in seafood and fish to potentially cause genetic mutations and cancers in humans across multiple generations.

Unfortunately, the impact of crude oil spill in our sea may also disrupt the “gagne pain” of so many of our fishermen and others in the tourism industry. One can imagine the psychological stress that may entail and as a result put them at risk of anxiety, depression and other psychosocial issues which may persist.


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